There will be some notable absences this coming football season at Booker T. Washington.
Quarterback Treon Harris, defensive ends Chad Thomas and Demetrius Jackson, and cornerback Nigel Bethel dropped by the school to watch Monday afternoon as the reigning high school football national champions opened spring football practice.
Soon they’ll be gone to college.
The booming voice of former coach Tim “Ice” Harris is also missing.
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The patriarch of the Tornadoes’ national title team and back-to-back state title run is now at the University of Miami.
But once the passes started connecting and the drills started running like clockwork under the tutelage of Harris’ son — Tim, Jr., the Tornadoes’ soon-to-be-named official new coach — it was clear the talent and cohesion that have propelled the Tornadoes to 26 consecutive wins heading into the upcoming season is still very present.
“We still have the potential to win another national championship,” rising junior running back Mark Walton said.
“Once we learn how to play together on this team and get to know each other, we will pick up the same great bond we had last year.”
Walton (5-10, 190 pounds), who ran for 832 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, is one of several key players returning on a team that has the potential — despite losing a large senior class that included 16 signees on National Signing Day — to put the Tornadoes in the hunt for another national crown this coming season.
Booker T. returns a squad of at least 25 players that are expected to earn FBS school scholarship offers.
“We’re just hoping to have our guys gain experience,” Harris Jr. said. “A lot of these guys got a lot of reps in games that were pretty much over early last season. Now, it’s a matter of using this spring to refresh everything in their minds and us as coaches just teach.”
Likely the biggest shoes to fill are those of University of Florida signee Treon Harris, who threw for 2,159 yards and 28 touchdowns to only four interceptions this past season.
Rising seniors Jamie Taylor and Maurice Alexander, a second-team All-Dade selection that transferred from Homestead, are the front runners for the job. Taylor played in four games this past season when Harris sustained an injury. Alexander threw for 2,111 yards and 26 touchdown passes at Homestead last season.
Walton will be the featured back running behind a talented offensive line anchored by rising seniors Deiontae Lynch (6-3, 288), Cesar Jimenez (6-2, 276) and Clayton Cobb (6-2, 277).
The receivers will be led by rising seniors Shaquille Green, Vaquan Small (out for most of the spring with a torn meniscus), rising junior Darius Scott, rising sophomore Cleavan Thomas and the addition of rising senior transfer Antonio Calloway.
The defense will be stout with returning linebackers James King, Hosea McMullin and Tyrone Robinson. Up front, 6-7, 240-pound senior defensive end Ronique Robinson, and linemates Cameron Nelson and Devon Blackmon should provide consistent pass rush, and the secondary will be led by seniors Terry Jefferson, Catravis Hudson, Ocie Rose, Ladarius Crump, senior transfer Davante Davis, and rising junior Dontye Carriere-Williams.
Booker T. will put itself to the test right away next season against Tucker (Ga.) as part of a Florida versus Georgia tripleheader in Clarkston (Ga.) on Aug. 30 that also includes Central and Norland.
The Tornadoes, however, will not play another school in a spring exhibition game this year. Instead, they will play an intrasquad game starting 10 a.m. May 24 at Gibson Park next to their school.
“We’re a lot better team that people might think we are right now,” Harris, Jr. said.
“We’ve gained so much experience the past few years playing the kind of games we have. Coming off the national championship we felt the best way to make our kids refocus was to just play against each other without any pressure and get comfortable for the upcoming season.”