Miami Central senior Donovan Thompson sees no weaknesses around him when he steps on the football field.
He eagerly awaits the opposing team’s snap of the ball as he stares past a defensive line with Football Bowl Subdivision-level talent from end to end.
He’s confident in his support behind him — a secondary that can match it with its ability to shut down receivers like few others can.
And he is the leader of the Rockets linebackers, who coordinate an effort that has produced one of the most dominant defenses in recent years.
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Although some of the players have come and gone, Thompson has been the constant during the Rockets’ historic state championship run.
“Coming into this system here at Central, it’s expected from Day One that you will win a state championship,” Thompson said. “Our coaches challenge us every day in practice to be mentally tough and handle that pressure.”
Thompson doesn’t know what it’s like not to be a state champion.
For three years, Thompson, a 5-10, 210-pound linebacker who recently committed to play at FIU, has anchored one of the nation’s toughest defenses, helping Central win four state championships in five seasons — something no Miami-Dade County team had ever done.
Thompson wants to leave the Rockets going a perfect 4 for 4, which also would make Central the first county team to accomplish that feat.
Central is vying to become the third team in the history of Florida to win four consecutive state titles.
“We’ve been working hard all summer to make this happen,” Thompson said. “My role has always been to keep everybody in place and control the situation in the game.”
The Rockets opened the season ranked in the top five in nearly every national poll. A mythical national title has eluded them thanks to losses each of the past two seasons to rival Miami Booker T. Washington, and an opening-week loss this season to DeMatha Catholic.
But a defensive unit that totaled a staggering 83 sacks a year ago looks even stronger this time around and should be the catalyst for another memorable season.
Thompson led Miami-Dade County with 167 tackles last season and finished with 14 sacks, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
Coming into this system here at Central, it’s expected from Day One that you will win a state championship.
Donovan Thompson, senior linebacker at Central, who is trying to end his high school career 4 for 4 in state title games as the leader of the defense
Central will count on its veteran captain even more after losing junior linebacker and University of Miami commitment Waynmon Steed to a season-ending knee injury.
Senior Keir Thomas (6-2, 250), an FSU recruit, returns to anchor a punishing front four that got stronger with the addition of defensive end Eric Mitchell (6-1, 220), a UF commitment who transferred from Miami Norland. Thomas had 18 sacks and 76 tackles last season.
“Eric is a good pass rusher, and he’s buying into the system more every day,” Thompson said. “Once he does, everything should fall into place.”
The secondary is led once again by 6-4, 185-pound senior safety Jamel Cook, an FSU commitment who had six interceptions last season.
The apparent lack of vulnerabilities, however, isn’t limited to the Rockets’ defense.
One of the best and biggest starting offensive lines returns almost intact, led by 6-5, 300-pound junior tackle and UM commit Navaughn Donaldson and 6-2, 324-pound guard Mershawn Miller.
Senior quarterback Jerrod Thomas has benefited from a year as the team’s starting quarterback after throwing for 1,584 yards with 16 touchdown passes last season. Thomas has one of the country’s best receivers in senior Darnell Salomon and also has junior Jernard Phillips, the younger brother of star receiver Da’Vante Phillips, a freshman at FSU.
The big guys up front also will open holes for one of the deepest backfields in the state that Central coach Roland Smith said could be used in a rotation that goes four or five players deep.
Senior Kenio Mike (5-10, 190 pounds) came over from Coral Gables and leads the group along with senior Corey Roberts, juniors Kaywan Smith and Kh-lajuwon Murat and freshman James Cook, the younger brother of FSU running back Dalvin Cook.
At 5-10, 185 pounds, Cook already physically is almost his brother’s size when he was a high school senior. Smith said Cook will factor heavily in Central’s special teams as well.
And that is where Central also looks strong, thanks to another younger sibling of a past Rockets standout. Freshman kicker Jordan Nadelman — the younger brother of former Central All-State kicker Emilio Nadelman, now a sophomore at the University of South Florida — will handle the kicking duties for the Rockets.
But despite being at the heart of this talented juggernaut, Thompson isn’t going to make any brash predictions. That’s something he said he learned when he was 9 years old playing for the Northside Optimist Club.
“When I was younger, my grandpa always told me to let my actions speak louder than words,” Thompson said.
If all goes according to plan, the Rockets should make a loud statement this season.