With the defending national champions in their district, not many would fault Gulliver Prep if it tempered its excitement for the upcoming season.
That’s not the case for the Raiders though.
“It’s a challenge every year,” Gulliver coach Earl Sims said. “They were No. 1 in the nation and having that team in your district is tough. But it’s an honor to have that challenge. It helps us see how competitive we can be and we’re going to put our best team on the field and see what happens.”
Booker T., ranked in the top 10 nationally, may still be a national title contender and clearly the favorite to win District 8-4A.
But Gulliver isn’t shying away from the challenge and has arguably its best team since it was the Class 2A state runner-up in 2008.
The Raiders, who went 7-4 last season, have a combined 13 starters returning led by a solid group of juniors.
Wide receiver/defensive back Dionte Mullins (6-0, 175) and linebacker Cedric Wright are among the best athletes in Miami-Dade. Wright will line up alongside senior Domonic Sheppard.
Up front, Gulliver expects to put plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks with junior Joseph Jackson (6-6, 240) and 6-3, 220-pound junior Charles Callender bookending the line.
Senior strong safety Chris Sotolongo has had an excellent career so far at Gulliver totaling more than 10 interceptions, and is expected to thrive in this improved defense.
On offense, Gulliver should be able to run the ball effectively with one of the most-promising sophomores in the state in Robert Burns (5-11, 190), who figures to have a breakout season for the Raiders.
“We’re anxious to see what we can become as a team,” Sims said. “We have a lot of guys who have stepped up and led the way over the summer and ready to compete.”
Aside from Booker T., Gulliver will have to once again contend with Monsignor Pace in the district and a much-improved Edison squad that features a solid offensive line.
In the neighboring District 7-4A, Davie University School had several of its players transfer following the departure of coach Roger Harriott to Florida Atlantic University.
Although the Suns don’t appear to be as strong as in the past, Belle Glade Glades Central could be a potential playoff obstacle for Gulliver.