For the first time in more than five years, Booker T. Washington did not book a trip to Orlando last December.
After ousting Cocoa in the state semifinal round each of those seasons, the Tornadoes’ rivals from up north returned the favor in 2016.
Booker T. coach Tim “Ice” Harris, who has led the Tornadoes to three of their five state titles since 2007, has spent the offseason working with his coaches on recapturing the formula that worked during that state-record streak of four consecutive championships.
The Tornadoes will push themselves against some of the nation’s best nearly every week this season in order to be prepared should they clash with Cocoa once again this December.
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1. Booker T. Washington: The Tornadoes return key players at nearly every important position including junior quarterback Daniel Richardson and defensive end Jaquan Beaver — the Miami Herald’s Class 5A-Independents Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, respectively.
With Tyquan Thornton, a University of Florida commitment, and Zahir Turner leading a talented receiving corps, the Tornadoes should have one of the state’s most explosive offenses once again.
Beaver had 14 sacks last season and will lead Booker T.’s defensive front with a talented secondary led by Jermaine McMillan causing problems for opposing quarterbacks.
The Tornadoes have a tough schedule that includes games against their biggest rivals, Northwestern and Central. It should toughen them up for another push for a state title in December.
2. Champagnat Catholic: Two years after the program had to restart almost from scratch, the Lions were back in Orlando and competing for a state championship. But Jacksonville University Christian gave Champagnat an idea of how much it still needed to learn before it can win a state championship as it did in 2013.
The Lions feel they have the right mix on their roster to finish the job this year.
Fielding its most talented team in the program’s brief history, Champagnat isn’t just the favorite to return to state in Class 2A, it is one of Miami-Dade County’s best teams overall.
Seven major FBS recruits lead a defense that carried the team to state in last year’s playoffs and should be even better this year.
Senior defensive ends Gregory Rousseau, a University of Miami commitment, and Kayode Oladele, a former FSU commitment, are the leaders up front on a line that also includes 6-7, 285-pound junior Michael Cartwright.
Linebackers Donovan Georges, a senior and Georgia commitment, and sophomore linebacker Jesus Machado, who drew an Alabama offer as soon as he got to high school, back them up.
Champagnat’s offense was shut down in its state finals defeat.
The Lions believe they won’t have that problem this season with numerous weapons, including running back Calvin Montgomery and receivers Marc Britt and Johnquai Lewis protected by talented linemen such as senior Jovans Janvier and junior Khiry Stubbs and Cartwright, who can play on both sides.
Champagnat should have what it takes to successfully navigate its way back to Orlando and put together a better performance than it did last season.
3. Monsignor Pace: Veteran coach Joe Zaccheo endured a tough first season in 2015 with mostly freshmen and sophomores playing at key positions. A year later, the Spartans narrowly missed the postseason, finishing third in District 8-4A.
With the district format gone this season, and Pace already looking impressive, the Spartans should get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Junior Cesar Medina and underclassmen such as freshman James Williams lead a playmaking defense likely to shut down some of the best offenses they will face this season.
Junior running back Tyrone Douglas could emerge as one of the county’s most prolific backs, and quarterback Lorenzo Floyd, a transfer with big-game experience from Class 6A state champion Carol City, should boost the passing game.
4. Jackson: Lakatriona Brunson is in her second year as the Generals’ coach. Jackson scored one of the biggest upsets of the season in 2016 when it upset Booker T. Washington, but only mustered two more victories in a 3-7 season. The Generals opened the season with a win, but to top last year’s record they will need consistency on both sides of the ball against a tough District 16-5A slate.
5. Gulliver: The Raiders have a handful of FBS prospects and jumped back into the state series this year in Class 4A, where they will need to clinch a playoff berth based on points earned throughout the season. It won’t be easy with numerous tough opponents on the schedule.
RANKING THE REST
6. Edison; 7. La Salle; 8. Palmer Trinity; 9. Westminster Christian; 10. Everglades Prep; 11. Palm Glades Prep; 12. Keys Gate; 13. Florida Christian; 14. Miami Christian; 15. Ransom Everglades; 16. Pinecrest Prep.