Norland is one of only five Miami-Dade County schools to win more than one state football championship in the past 50 years.
The Vikings are two years removed from an undefeated season and consecutive trips to the state final.
But Norland’s placement in District 16-6A — considered by many to be the toughest in the state — has thrust the Vikings back into the role of underdogs.
Norland, however, doesn’t see it that way.
“When we saw what district we were in, we just said now it’s time to go and play ball,” senior linebacker Dreshawn Dean said.
“We’re not going to be anyone’s little brother in this district.”
The Vikings, who have gone 37-5 over the past three seasons, joined a district that includes Miami Central, winners of two state titles in the past three seasons, Miami Northwestern, Miami Carol City and Homestead.
Their four new district rivals combined to go 34-12 last season and none went worse than 7-3.
And Central will enter the season ranked No.1 nationally by Rivals.com and in the top five in two other major polls.
“I don’t see any team being undefeated,” Norland coach Daryle Heidelburg said.
“It’s like a college or NFL-type district. It’s going to be a week-to-week thing. Injuries will have an effect on the outcome of games. It’s definitely going to be the ‘black-and-blue division.’ ”
So how will Norland survive a gauntlet that also includes two more defending state champions in Booker T. Washington and Davie University School, perennial playoff teams Columbus and Jackson, and a road game against Stephenville, Georgia’s defending Class 3A state champion, in Week 1?
Heidelburg said the Vikings will turn to a more pass-oriented offense.
Norland has eight starters back, including highly touted senior wide receiver Kendrick Edwards, a 6-5, 200-pound prospect who has numerous Football Bowl Subdivision offers and is ranked 15th in Miami-Dade County by the Miami Herald.
Edwards and senior Zaquan Tyson make for a solid receiving core that should help second-year starting quarterback Taron James.
Running back Khalil Murat, who has been playing with the Vikings for three years, also complements the offense.
The Vikings defense knows it will have a huge task ahead nearly every week in District 16-6A trying to stop some of the state’s and nation’s best playmakers such as Central’s Dalvin Cook and Joe Yearby, Homestead’s Ermon Lane, Northwestern’s Jojo Robinson and Carol City quarterback Trayone Gray.
Dean, who is 6-0, 255, leads the defense, and its strength will be its secondary, according to Heidelburg. Dean has offers from FAU, Illinois and BYU.
Seniors Xavier Francis and Ryan Butler are among the playmakers who will lead the secondary.
“To see what it took for us to get to the state championship has shown us what we need to be ready,” Heidelburg said.
“We have two nationally ranked No. 1 teams on the schedule. If we can somehow squeeze out five wins, then we’ll go for six and seven and eight and just go from there.”• Check out more of the Miami Herald’s High School Football Preseason Tour online as well as the first South Florida Top 20 rankings at www.miamiherald.com/hssports.