Andre C. Fernandez: Talent-rich American Heritage looks to repeat as 5A champion

08/28/2014 2:00 PM

09/08/2014 8:17 PM

American Heritage elevated itself to elite status among Broward County football programs last season by securing its first state championship.

In the offseason, the Patriots put together a brutal schedule in the hopes of becoming a national-championship contender.

The slate includes games against some of the state’s elite — St. Thomas Aquinas, Miramar, Apopka and Daytona Beach Mainland.

And why wouldn’t they?

The Patriots return one of the most talent-rich rosters statewide, led by quarterback Torrance Gibson and defensive back Taravarus McFadden.

As they showed against Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer in their exhibition game last weekend, the Patriots can strike quickly and often offensively with numerous weapons such as wide receiver Dedrick Snelson.

And their defense can still come after opposing quarterbacks and create turnovers that lead to quick points.

American Heritage’s chances of repeating in Class 5A look good, no matter what happens on the national stage. And outside of the large-school teams, the Patriots represent Broward’s best hope of securing a state championship this season.

1. American Heritage: The Patriots are by far the most talented team among Broward County’s small-school classifications and should repeat as state champions in Class 5A.

2. Cardinal Gibbons: After losing 31 seniors, including quarterback Peyton Bender and star wide receiver Trevon Lee, the Chiefs need new leaders to emerge if they are to make a return trip to the playoffs. Defensive end Richard McIntosh is among the nation’s best and should bolster a talented unit that will keep Gibbons in games.

His younger brother, Deon McIntosh, a junior running back, will be the focal point of the offense and could have a huge yardage season.

Expect Gibbons to battle Jackson for District 16-5A’s second playoff berth. But even staying close with Heritage will be a challenge. A more experienced Gibbons squad lost 71-24 to the Patriots last season.

3. Westminster Academy: The Lions are ready to make a serious run at the Independent Southeastern Football Conference title with one of their best teams in recent memory. A potent offense returns six starters, including senior quarterback Joseph Vairo, wide receiver and Wisconsin commit A.J. James and two-way lineman threat Luke Miseyko.

Westminster would likely be a playoff team if it played in Class 3A or 2A. That kind of talent should carry it far in its conference playoffs.

4. Coral Springs Charter: Coming off its best season in school history, the Panthers are also in the hunt for the SFC title with 11 combined starters returning. Coach Adam Miller’s squad went 8-2 last season and should be able to hold its own even in the strong Northern Division of the conference. Junior athlete Calvin Jackson is a breakout performer to watch.

5. Chaminade-Madonna: In a two-team district with Miami Westminster Christian, the Lions are once again guaranteed a playoff berth regardless of their record. But Chaminade should be a bit better than last year’s 2-6 team. Senior running back Andre Funchess should rack up big numbers as coach Marcelo Rodriguez’s team can only get better on offense after averaging only 6.2 points per game last season.

6. Somerset Academy: With University School expected to have a significant drop-off, the Panthers have a chance to compete for a playoff berth in small District 7-4A. Somerset returns 11 starters and should be quicker and more athletic across the board. Belle Glade Glades Central is the favorite to win the district, but Somerset is now on a more even level with University School.

7. University School: After its mass exodus of players following the departure of coach Roger Harriott to Florida Atlantic University, the Suns are rebuilding under new coach Brandon Harris. There is still some talent on the team with players such as freshman defensive lineman Nick Bonito. But this squad isn’t expected to be even close to what it has been in recent years.

8. Calvary Christian: With 10 starters returning, the Crusaders should match or improve upon a 7-3 season and possibly get farther in the SFC playoffs this year.

9. Pine Crest: The Panthers’ core group of juniors who endured a 4-6 season are back and ready to lift Pine Crest into contention for the independent SFC championship.

10. Archbishop McCarthy: The Mavericks went the independent route and joined the new Gold Coast Conference. Senior tight end/defensive end Joseph Bost will lead a squad that returns 10 combined starters.

11. Pines Charter: Following a dismal 1-9 season, the Jaguars dropped from Class 6A to independent and joined the Gold Coast Conference. Their new division, a new defensive scheme and a triple-option offense should provide them a chance for more wins.

12. Pompano Beach: A squad that returns 11 starters should be in a better position to win games in the Southeastern Football Conference.

13. North Broward Prep: The Eagles dropped from Class 4A to join the SFC following a 2-8 season.

14. West Broward: Former NFL’er Reyna Thompson takes over as coach for the independent Bobcats, who went 2-8 last year.

15. Coral Glades: Nowhere to go but up for the Jaguars who went independent after going winless and getting outscored 407-37.

16. Highlands Christian: The Knights are independent now following a 1-9 season in Class 2A.

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