Twenty months ago they cried and celebrated University School’s first state football championship together like one big happy family.
Friday night at Sun Life Stadium they’ll be enemies, playing on opposite sides of one of the most hyped high school football season openers in Broward County history.
If you were looking for subplots to the first meeting between nationally ranked No. 1 St. Thomas Aquinas and defending class 5A state champion American Heritage, look no further than the 11 former U-School players who went in two separate directions when coach Roger Harriott left to become the assistant head coach at FAU last December.
Four are now Raiders: University of Miami-bound running back Jordan Scarlett, cornerback Rashard Causey (FAU commitment), defensive tackle Brandon Boyce (Duke) and class of 2016 receiver Sam Bruce (UM commitment).
The other seven are Patriots: safeties Deonta Fair and Nick Peart, linebackers Bradley Clement and Christian Irving, offensive linemen Louie Berkowitz and Brett Kahn, and 6-5, 215-pound defensive end Brian Burns.
“This game is something we’ve definitely been thinking about for a while,” said Kahn, a 6-4, 270-pound left tackle committed to play at Brown University next season.
“There’s still a friendship when we see each other. We went to their [preseason] game [against Dillard] and we said, ‘What’s up,’ to Boyce and Scarlett. And they came to see us [against Dwyer].
“But it’s business now. We’re on different teams and we’re on the biggest stage you can possibly imagine. Every kid wants to play in Dolphins Stadium. Growing up down here, I never thought it was possible. This is big.”
It’s big on a lot of different levels. Aquinas, a seven-time state champion, is ranked in the top three of all four major national polls.
Coach Rocco Casullo’s team features a senior class with 10 FBS commitments and potentially another 10 who will sign with major programs. With all that talent, the Raiders appear to be in the driver’s seat to win their third mythical national title since 2008.
Heritage, which finally won its first state title last year, is the up-and-comer under second-year coach and former Miami Hurricane Mike Rumph. They’re ranked as high as fifth by MaxPreps and are 20th overall in the composite rankings.
Although Heritage’s campus is only eight miles away from Aquinas, the two schools have never been this close on the gridiron.
“Coach Rumph has done a tremendous job not only putting together a great coaching staff, but the talent there is tremendous,” Casullo told CBS-4 this week. “Watching those guys last year it was great to see a Broward County team continue to win and win a state championship. Those kids obviously respect him and play hard for him, and you saw that on Sunday [against Dwyer].”
That would be the same Dwyer program that eliminated Aquinas from the state playoffs last year. Heritage made the Panthers look like a shell of last year’s team, crushing Dwyer 49-23 behind five touchdown passes from four-star quarterback Torrance Gibson including three to receiver Dredrick Snelson, a 2016 University of Miami commitment.
In all, Rumph estimates there could be as many as 20 to 25 players on the field at Sun Life Stadium Friday night who could be playing major college football in the next two years. Several others could earn themselves scholarship offers with good performances, he said.
“People have been wanting to see this game for a long time and it’s kind of been up in the air,” Rumph said. “To finally get it to happen is a total blessing. Whatever happens we’re both big strong programs and we have bigger and better things ahead like national championships and state championships. But the tone gets set Friday at 7:30.”
The truth is the tone has been getting set for a while — especially for those former University School teammates.
“All I know is I can’t wait to run downhill on Jordan Scarlett,” Heritage safety Deonta Fair said. “There’s been major trash talking. My former teammates at Aquinas have been texting me all day in class. I’ve given them no response, though. They’re going to get my message during the game.”