Kedonis Haslem showed up to Monday’s first football practice of the fall at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas wearing red socks and neon under shorts beneath his uniform.
The fashion faux pas not only earned the 6-4, 290-pound defensive lineman and son of longtime Heat forward Udonis Haslem the nickname Highlighter, it also got him called out in front of his new teammates by his coach.
“What does this scream to me?” coach Roger Harriott asked his players as they kneeled before him and a slightly embarrassed Haslem after practice. “It screams that he’s an individual.”
At Aquinas, home to eight state championships and two national titles, standing out for something other than performance on the field or academics is the last thing any Raider wants to do.
Haslem, a 16-year-old junior who transferred from Dade Christian over the spring, was given a break Monday. But Harriott, a former All-Broward running back at Aquinas who took over for Rocco Casullo in March, used Haslem’s dress code infraction as an example for a broader message.
He wants his first team at Aquinas to have one heartbeat — from the uniforms on down.
“It’s definitely a good thing to hear them getting on us,” said receiver Trevon Grimes, a 6-3, 180-pound junior ranked the nation’s top receiver in the Class of 2017 by 247Sports.com.
“There’s people who come up to me and are like you’re a five-star this, five-star that. It’s good to have someone keeping it real when I’m not doing good and when I’m at my lowest ... because everywhere else we go we get the love.”
Receiving some tough love is one reason Haslem transferred to Aquinas. Being a part of Aquinas’ championship tradition is why dozens of others have joined him since the Raiders came home from Orlando with the Class 7A state title in December.
The list of transfers is so long Harriott couldn’t provide an exact number. His varsity roster, he said, is well over 100 players. He said some transfers have come in from as far away as Canada, Ireland, Haiti and Jamaica.
But the more familiar new additions include standout 2017 quarterback Jake Allen (Cardinal Gibbons), center Louie Berkowitz (American Heritage), running back James Charles (Coconut Creek), defensive end Nikolas Bonitto (University School) and Michael Irvin Jr., a 6-3, 220-pound senior tight end from Plano, Texas, whose Hall of Fame father starred at Aquinas.
“My Dad thinks this was the greatest move we could have made,” said Irvin Jr., who said he flew back into South Florida around 4 a.m. Monday for practice after attending the Ronda Rousey UFC fight in Brazil with his dad.
“I was going to switch to another school in Texas, but we decided to come here instead because it’s a better program. He thinks I’ll grow inside of it, and it will help me a lot before I go off to UM.
“I want to win a state title. The last two years in Texas our team lost in the final and it hurt. I need a ring.”
The Raiders were hit hard by graduation. The only returning All-Broward first-team selection on a stellar defense is 6-4, 265-pound five-star end Nick Bosa. But as Harriott pointed out, there is plenty of talent around to mold.
He has brought in five new assistant coaches and still has most of Aquinas’ old coaching staff still intact, including longtime offensive line coach Jay Connolly.
“I tell the kids all the time that the biggest room in the world is room for improvement,” he said. “The areas of concern are offensive line due to inexperience and then linebackers. But there are some willing guys here with the tool sets they need to be productive players.”
Aquinas only has nine games on the regular season schedule at the moment, but Harriott is hoping to add an out of town opponent the weekend of Oct. 23.
The Raiders will host Dillard on Aug. 20 in a preseason kickoff classic. They’ll open the regular season Aug. 28 at home in a much-anticipated showdown with three-time defending Class 4A state champion Miami Booker T. Washington, winners of 41 consecutive games. ESPNU will broadcast the game live at 8 p.m.
By then, Haslem’s highlighter shorts will be long retired.
“I actually slept in these,” Haslem of his neon colored under shorts. “It was one of those things where I woke up, put my stuff on, brushed my teeth and got out the door as fast as I could.
“Getting called out by coach wasn’t that bad. I just have to come out here and make sure I wear the right stuff. Next time for sure I’ll have white tights and black socks.”