A year after its first state football playoffs appearance, Monarch finds itself in uncharted territory with a No. 10 ranking in the Class 8A preseason poll.
Some of the unprecedented buzz surrounding the upstart Knights was tempered with the revelation that Calvin “Showtime” Ridley, the nation’s top wide receiver prospect, will only be eligible for the first three games of the season because of age restrictions.
But opposing coaches still realize that the Knights’ other University of Alabama signee, Shawn Burgess-Becker, can blow up game plans from both sides of the ball.
Monarch will undoubtedly miss Ridley’s ability to score any time he touches the ball, but his expected absence should be offset by Burgess-Becker, a four-star prospect by Rivals.com who doubles as a downfield threat and hard-hitting safety.
Monarch coach Calvin Davis compares Burgess-Becker to a young Sean Taylor, the former University of Miami and Washington Redskins star.
“Shawn covers so much field as a safety, but he also comes down and knocks peoples heads off in the box,” Davis said. “He is very, very physical, which is what you want from your best defensive player. He just sets the tone defensively for us from his position. He can come down and make a play at the line of scrimmage or intercept the ball 40 yards down the field. That shows you how dynamic he is.”
Monarch, which has 17 returning starters from its District 11-8A runner-up team, has enough talent to win the Class 8A state title. What the Knights need to prove as a state championship-caliber program is whether they can pull out close games against elite teams.
Last season the Knights (8-4) fell 27-24 in overtime to archrival Deerfield Beach and then let a 13-2 halftime lead slip away in a 31-21 loss to Miramar in the Class 8A regional quarterfinals.
“Experience will be our key this year,” Davis said. “Our kids have been through situations last year in the Deerfield Beach and Miramar games. They understand what it takes to get to that point this year. I think the kids are very motivated, ready to avenge our couple of losses from last year. We want to win the district championship, first and foremost. After that, we want to make a deep run into the playoffs and try to go to Orlando.”
As explosive as the Knights proved last season with Ridley as their home run threat, opponents could have an even more difficult time matching up with them this season.
Michael Harris, who threw for 2,971 yards and 31 touchdowns last season, is back to lead an aerial show that features Burgess-Becker (518 yards, nine touchdowns), Jerry Jeudy, Ellex Davis and Cavin Ridley, Calvin’s younger brother.
All that attention directed to the Knights’ talented receiving corps should open things up for running back Cavarri Morss, who looked sensational during spring drills.
“We are loaded offensively across the board,” Davis said. “We are going to be the surprise team. I still think we are still under the radar, considering we are in 8A. We are considered good, but no one considers us great, so it’s going to be our job to go out and set the tone.”