After winning a mythical high school national championship in December, Booker T. Washington’s time to celebrate has been short-lived.
Rumors immediately began to swirl that coach Tim “Ice” Harris was leaving the school for a coaching job in college football. Joining the Arkansas football staff with current Razorbacks linebacker coach and former University of Miami coach Randy Shannon was one job Harris was believed to be considering.
The uncertainty led to star running back Mark Walton transferring to Central in January, a key blow to any chance Booker T. had of winning a third consecutive state championship.
But it didn’t take long for the Tornadoes to spiral back into control.
Walton transferred back to Booker T. in February despite the initial doubts his mother had about the school’s coaching situation.
“Like LeBron [James] said, ‘Home is where home is,’ ” Walton said, “and it was time for me to come back home. I missed it over here at Booker T.”
A month later, Harris made the jump to the college ranks while also opting to stay home. He is the University of Miami’s running backs coach after five months with the Hurricanes.
His son, Tim Harris Jr., took the reins, and the rest of Booker T.’s coaching staff remained on board.
“We like winning championships, and we take great pride in that,” Tim Harris Jr. said, “so we’re going to do everything we have to do to continue doing that.”
Walton accounted for 832 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground, and caught eight passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns last season. Although those numbers might not seem gaudy, the Tornadoes scored 41.3 points per game, so there was no need to abuse defenses any more with Walton’s explosiveness.
He could have easily filled Central’s void at running back with Dalvin Cook (Florida State) and Joseph Yearby (UM) graduating, but being a Rocket didn’t feel right for the Hurricanes commit.
“I didn’t like it over there at all,” Walton said of Central. “It’s a great program, but I didn’t feel comfortable.
“[Booker T.] is where my heart is. We won two championships over here. I’m glad I’m back here.”
Walton’s return eased the blow of losing last season’s team leaders, such as quarterback Treon Harris (now at the University of Florida), defensive ends Chad Thomas and Demetrius Jackson (UM) and cornerback Nigel Bethel II (Texas Tech).
Even though Booker T. might not have the firepower to command the nation’s No. 1 ranking like it did last season after dominating Norcross (Georgia) 55-0 in the season opener on Aug. 24, 2013, and beating Central 28-17 on Sept. 6, 2013, the Tornadoes are hoping some new faces can keep their state title hopes alive.
Quarterback Maurice Alexander, wide receiver Antonio Calloway and cornerback Devante Davis all transferred from Homestead in the spring and have emerged as leaders during their short time in the program.
Although Alexander doesn’t have the ability to run the ball like Treon Harris, the Tornadoes are hoping his pocket presence and continuity with players such as Walton, Calloway and receivers Shaquille Green and Vaquan Small can fuel the offense this season.
“My first day there, Coach Tim said, ‘Don’t be afraid to be a leader,’ and after that I took his word,” said Alexander, who threw for 2,111 yards and 26 touchdown passes with current Florida State receiver Ermon Lane as one of his primary targets.
On defense, Harris Jr. said defensive back Terry Jefferson (5-9, 190 pounds) is the “heart and soul of the team.” Jefferson made arguably the biggest play for the Tornadoes last season, taking an interception 75 yards for a touchdown to seal Booker T.’s win over Central. Harris also expects big contributions from defensive backs Ocie Rose, junior Dontye Carriere-Williams and linebacker James King.
“We’ve been successful doing what we do,” Harris said of his approach as the Tornadoes coach. “I’ve been a guy that has played in this program. I graduated from Booker T., so it’s dear to my heart, and I don’t want to do anything to feel like I’m doing it just to put my stamp on it when what we have in place is a great situation.”
Having Walton, who said he wants to be the best running back to ever come out of Booker T., lead the way this season also helps.
“I know I got to stay healthy, do whatever I can do to keep my team on the right track to the national championship and just try to be the best running back to come out of Booker T.,” Walton said.
“I know I’m ready for it. I just want my team to get ready for it also.”