If anyone thought American Heritage was vulnerable entering this season after graduating several starters, including quarterback Torrance Gibson, think again.
The Patriots quickly showed how tough they still are with a road trip and dramatic win against national power IMG Academy in Bradenton. So with that in mind, how can they not go in as my top team in Broward County among this group?
1. American Heritage: Heritage’s road back to Orlando is legitimately one of the toughest of any team in the nation this season. The Patriots followed the win over IMG with a trip to Atlanta, where they beat Stephenson, and were set to open their home schedule Saturday against national power DeMatha (Md.) Catholic. Sprinkle in a district that got much tougher with the addition of Hallandale and Coconut Creek, and Miami Jackson’s improvement, and the path is beyond treacherous.
But Heritage has enough talent on the defensive side of the ball with Brian Burns and on offense with star running back Kyshaun Bryan to make a strong push to become Broward County’s first team to win three consecutive state titles.
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2. Hallandale: If anyone can spoil the party for American Heritage, it’s Hallandale. The Chargers were two quarters away from doing the same thing to Miami Central last year before falling to the Rockets in the Class 6A regional semifinals.
Hallandale returns the top senior quarterback in Broward in Tyler Huntley and arguably the best receiving corps in the area. Add in a defense that got deeper, especially in the secondary, and you have a dangerous team that should be right in the mix with Heritage come playoff time in Class 5A.
3. Coconut Creek: Few teams in the country have more All-American talent than the Cougars this season. But can the cast around them bring it all together and lead Creek through arguably the toughest district in the state? Trayvon Mullen, Binjimen Victor, Malek Young and Jhakari Harrison will light up scoreboards all season. If they do it against Heritage, Hallandale and Jackson, they’ll be playoff bound.
4. Chaminade-Madonna: A revival has begun at this once-state-championship-level program. First-year coach Jason Milgrom brings his experience coaching at St. Thomas Aquinas to the Lions and hopes to get them back to the level they achieved when winning two state titles under former coach Mark Guandolo. Standouts such as quarterback Kole Stealy and receiver Xavier Williams should help Chaminade take the first step this season.
5. Cardinal Gibbons: A lot of talented players either graduated or walked out the Chiefs’ door this offseason. But the cupboard isn’t bare. Gibbons is always well-coached, and led by running back Deon McIntosh and receiver Leroy Henley, expect it to battle the top teams in Class 5A.
6. NSU University School: After a 3-7 season, a uniform (blue and silver), nickname (Sharks) and coaching (longtime assistant Daniel Luque in charge) overhaul has U-School ready to jump back into playoff contention this season in Class 4A. Upstaging Belle Glade Glades Central and Clewiston will be tough, but give the Sharks some time.
7. Stranahan: Coach Tally Adams has done a solid job with the Dragons. A playoff spot seems unlikely only because of the district they are in. Still, expect Stranahan to be competitive and have a chance at a winning season.
8. Calvary Christian: A dream 11-0 season ended with the Southeastern Football Conference championship. Calvary Christian brings back enough key players to challenge for a repeat. Running back Massi Gamble and quarterback Nick Holm should give the Eagles enough to battle Westminster and Coral Springs Charter.
9. Westminster Academy: The Lions felt disappointed after a 9-1 season fell short of the SFC championship. A talented squad led by linebacker/running back Zack Ledbetter should put Westminster Academy at the forefront of the conference again this season along with Coral Springs Charter and Calvary Christian.
10. Coral Springs Charter: Charter got close last season to the SFC title and should find itself in the mix again. Seniors Calvin Jackson Jr., Zach Weber, A.J. Miller and Cam Perez give the Panthers playmaking ability.
11. Pine Crest; 12. Archbishop McCarthy; 13. Pompano Beach; 14. North Broward Prep; 15. Somerset; 16. International School of Broward; 17. Coral Glades; 18. Pines Charter; 19. Highlands Christian.