High School Sports

St. Thomas Aquinas loads up schedule for another run at national title

St. Thomas Aquinas defeats Tampa Plant 45-6 for a state football title at Camping World Stadium in Orlando on Friday, December 9, 2016.
St. Thomas Aquinas defeats Tampa Plant 45-6 for a state football title at Camping World Stadium in Orlando on Friday, December 9, 2016. adiaz@miamiherald.com

St. Thomas Aquinas came frustratingly short of claiming what would have been their third national championship in 2016.

It looks like the Raiders will be within striking distance once again this fall.

Aquinas announced Tuesday it will open next season hosting California powerhouse St. John Bosco on August 25th in one of two games against major out-of-state competition.

Aquinas running back Sam Llewellyn talks about the Raiders' facing St. John Bosco and Centennial next season as team chases another national title.

Aquinas finished last season 13-2, won its third consecutive state title and 10th overall, and won its game against Bingham (Utah) in the Geico State Champions Bowl Series in December.

The Raiders ended up ranked No. 5 nationally by USA Today in spite of two close defeats against Miami Booker T. Washington and consensus national champion Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas).

The Raiders, who released their full schedule, will also travel to play Arizona’s Centennial High, a state champion two of the past three seasons, on either Sept. 28 or 29.

Aquinas coach Roger Harriott talks about the upcoming season and facing two nationally elite opponents

"This will be another great opportunity for our players to focus on the present campaign and take each practice and each game seriously," Aquinas coach Roger Harriott said. "It allows us to help them generate the focus they need each day to produce a positive result."

St. John Bosco, a national champion in 2013, finished the season ranked No. 6 just below Aquinas last season, and was the Division I champion in California.

The Braves have a high-powered offense led by Re-Al Mitchell, a 6-0, 181-pound dual-threat senior quarterback, who is ranked No. 55 among overall prospects in California by Rivals.com. Senior Jaiden Woodbey, an Ohio State commitment, is a 6-2, 205-pound athlete that plays multiple key roles and defensive back Stephan Blaylock leads a talented defense.

"Games like this always bring us closer together like brothers," said linebacker Adetutu Daranijo. "It’s going to be a great experience."

Centennial won Arizona Division I state championships in 2014 and 2015 and was a state runner-up in 2016. The Coyotes, who are from Peoria, Arizona, have won five state titles and have never played a team from Florida.

No television contracts have yet been announced for either game, but Centennial coach Richard Taylor said the excitement for Aquinas’ visit to Arizona is already growing and the game could draw as many as 10,000 fans.

"Any time you can play a nationally-ranked team you’re going to win even if you lose," said Taylor, who has coached the program since its inception in 1990. "It helps your kids get better. It gets your community excited and shows that you are willing to play anybody and it makes our kids work a lot harder in the spring and summer knowing we will be facing a team as good as St. Thomas Aquinas."

Aquinas, which recently hired soon-to-be Hall of Famer and former Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor and former Dolphin Sam Madison as assistant coaches also have former University of Miami quarterback Ryan Collins as its new offensive coordinator.

Collins coached with Harriott at NSU University School and coached the same position at Flanagan two years ago when the Falcons won a state championship. Former Plantation coach Jesse Norris was also hired in the offseason to coach tight ends.

Full Aquinas schedule (Home games in all caps) – Aug. 17 (Preseason): DILLARD; Aug. 25: ST. JOHN BOSCO (CA); Sept. 1: PIPER; Sept. 8: FLANAGAN; Sept. 15: STRANAHAN; Sept. 28/29: at Centennial (AZ); Oct. 6: DEERFIELD BEACH; Oct. 13: FORT LAUDERDALE; Oct. 20: at Boyd Anderson; Oct. 27: at Blanche Ely; Nov. 3: at Miramar.