American Heritage needs its best defense to bring home trophy

Plantation American Heritage has a highly touted secondary, but the Patriots will require a total defensive effort against Clay in the Class 5A state title game.

12/13/2013 12:01 AM

12/13/2013 3:38 PM

Former Miami Dolphin Patrick Surtain knows what having two good cornerbacks can do for a defense.

“If you have two good corners you can do a lot of things,” said Surtain, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who teamed with four-time Pro Bowl selection Sam Madison in the late 1990s and early 2000s to lead the Dolphins secondary.

“I think we have two of the best in the country right here at American Heritage in Tarvarus [McFadden] and Juwan [Dowels],” added Surtain, Heritage’s defensive backs coach. “We’re in zero coverage about 70 percent of the time because of them. To put those guys in those [one-on-one] situations [without safety help], [defensive coordinator Daryl Porter] and I have a lot of confidence in them that they can hold up. So far, so good.”

McFadden is a Rivals five-star recruit in the Class of 2015 with offers from several major colleges. Dowels leads the state with eight interceptions and is committed to play at Northern Illinois next season.

When American Heritage (13-1) takes on Green Cove Springs Clay (10-4) at 1 p.m. Friday in the Class 5A state championship game at the Citrus Bowl, McFadden and Dowels could find themselves pretty bored.

Behind quarterback Wes Weeks (1,128 yards rushing, 14 TDs), senior Shannon Asbell (1,211 yards, 20 TDs) and sophomore Bilal Ally (970 yards, 10 TDs), the Blue Devils rely heavily on a power running game. Clay has averaged just a little more than eight passing attempts per game.

“It does get boring after a while when you face teams that run the ball that much, but you can’t fall asleep,” said McFadden, who has yet to make an interception this season because teams rarely throw his way. “We’ve played against teams before that don’t throw the ball a lot. But there’s always that one or two they throw and we have to make a play when it comes.”

Heritage coach Mike Rumph joked this week that “if we have bad corners here at Heritage, there is a problem.” The coaching staff includes three former NFL defensive backs (Rumph, Surtain and Porter).

Although his offensive playmakers and cornerbacks draw most of the attention, Rumph said the rest of his defense is deserving of praise. The Patriots are allowing 15 points a game and an average of 89.6 yards rushing.

“The defense to me starts with the guys up front – [senior defensive tackles] Edgar Cerenord and Justin Seibole,” Rumph said. “They’ve been very consistent shutting down the run. [Junior defensive end] Andre Jumper is one of the top guys in our county in sacks [5, 12.5 tackles for loss]. In the back end I have two of the best [corners] in the country. Our safety [Carter Jacobs] is committed to Cincinnati, one of the smartest kids I’ve ever coached. Linebackers Brandon Vicens, Anthony Flory, Justin Chang and free safety Kyle Perez have been very consistent. Kyle puts our guys in position on defense.”

Clay coach Josh Hoekstra, whose team won its past three games by wild scores of 74-73, 9-7 and 40-38, said his players have definitely fed off the underdog role in the playoffs. It will naturally be their motivation again Friday against the Patriots, who are led by Florida’s Gatorade Player of the Year, Sony Michel (Georgia commitment), and have five seniors committed to college programs.

“We don’t have any four- or five-star kids like American Heritage does,” said Hoekstra, who has one senior — left guard Tyler Grimsley — committed to a college program (Weber State), but a talented junior class. “The kids all know [what they’re up against]. They all read the Internet.”

Clay has beaten some talented teams on the road to state. The Blue Devils knocked off Wisconsin-bound quarterback D.J. Gillins and Jacksonville Ribault in Round 1, East Carolina-bound quarterback John Wolford and Jacksonville Bishop Kenny in Round 2 and Florida State-bound linebacker Delvin Purifoy and Pensacola Catholic in Round 3.

“If there is a faster kid with the ball in his hands than [junior running back] Ryan Davis at [St. Petersburg] Lakewood who we beat last week I’d like to see him,” Hoekstra said.

“The last three games have been tremendous finishes. The kids have believed all the way until the end. It’s been wild and exciting and a lot of fun. We can’t wait until Friday at 1 o’clock.”

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