All season long, Northwestern defensive end Demetrius Mayes Jr. has been wearing jersey No. 16.
But when he takes the field this Friday night when the Northwestern Bulls play in the Class 6A state championship game against Seffner Armwood at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, he will be wearing a different number.
Mayes will be wearing No. 1, in honor of a fallen teammate.
When five-star defensive end Samuel Brooks Jr. (who wore No. 1) was lost for the season with a knee injury on Oct. 12 in a nationally televised contest against Carol City, it left a gaping hole in a Bulls defense that was rolling along, stoning opponent after opponent each week and boasting “best defense in the nation” after each game.
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“Coach Max [coach Max Edwards] came to me and said they needed somebody to step in and be the leader of this defense so it was up to me to honor Sam by doing that,” said Mayes, a senior who is a UCF commit. “When the playoffs started, I went to coach and asked him if we made it all the way to the championship game if I could wear Sam’s number.”
“Demetrius has done a great job of stepping in for Sam as the leader of this defense,” Edwards said. “That was an easy decision to make to let him wear Sam’s number on Friday.”
Mayes said Brooks didn’t exactly embrace the idea when he first mentioned it to him.
“At first he was like a little hesitant, but then I told him how much we miss him and want to honor him and then he was like pretty cool with it, so it’s all good,” Mayes said. “Now we want to go out there and finish the job.”
And finishing the job will be a big challenge for Mayes and his teammates when kickoff arrives at 8 p.m. Friday night.
Not only are the Hawks undefeated at 14-0 and ranked No. 18 nationally by USA Today, but they are loaded with FBS recruits, many of them on offense.
An offense that has averaged nearly 35 points and 334.8 yards per game is led by running back and Ohio State commit Brian Snead, who ran for 1,329 yards on 198 carries and 16 TDs.
Quarterback Devin Black, who has FIU and FAU hot on his tracks, has thrown for 2,265 yards and 25 touchdowns while throwing just five interceptions.
Most of those yards and touchdowns went in the direction of Jerome Ford (38 catches, 800 yards, eight TDs), an Alabama commit and Warren Thompson (27 catches, 487 yards, six TDs), who might be headed to Oregon.
But if anybody thinks Bulls defenders are going to step on the field Friday night in awe of the Armwood offense, guess again.
“We watched them a few times in film study, and there’s not too much I’m worried about,” Mayes said. “We have to go up against a really good offense out here in practice everyday. Their quarterback, he’s just like our quarterback [Tutu Atwell], who I have to chase around in practice every day, so it won’t be any different.”
IF YOU GO
What: The 55th state football championships.
When: Thursday through Saturday.
Where: Camping World Stadium, 1 Citrus Bowl Place, Orlando.
Tickets: $12-$17 in advance, $15-$20 at the gate; Parking: $10.
2016 state champions – Class 8A: Miami Southridge; 7A: Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas; 6A: Miami Carol City; 5A: Plantation American Heritage; 4A: Cocoa; 3A: Jacksonville Trinity Christian; 2A: Jacksonville University Christian; 1A: Pahokee.
Thursday’s games – Class 1A: Madison County vs. Blountstown, 1; Class 4A: Cocoa vs. Jacksonville Raines, 7.
Friday’s games – Class 2A: Hialeah Champagnat Catholic vs. Jacksonville University Christian, 10 a.m.; Class 5A: Plantation American Heritage vs. Baker County, 3; Class 6A: Miami Northwestern vs. Seffner Armwood, 8.
Saturday’s games – Class 3A: Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna vs. West Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy, 10 a.m.; Class 7A: Venice vs. St. Johns Bartram Trail, 3; Class 8A: Delray Beach Atlantic vs. Orlando Dr. Phillips, 8.
CLASS 6A – NORTHWESTERN (11-2) vs. ARMWOOD (14-0)
Coaches – NW: Max Edwards (3rd year, 32-8); ARM: Evan Davis (1st year, 14-0).
How they got here – NW: d. Matanzas 33-0; Miami Central 24-18; Miami Carol City 23-15; Naples 42-7; ARM: d. Sebring 42-0; Hillsborough 22-0; Ocala Vanguard 31-17; St. Augustine 30-6.
Playoff history – NW: 48-21 (won state titles in 1964*-non-FHSAA, 1995, 1998, 2006, 2007); ARM: 52-16 (won state titles in 2003, 2004, 2011*-vacated).
Probable offensive starters – NW: QB Chatarius Atwell, 5-9, 161, Sr.; RB Bo Kendrick, 5-11, 200, Sr.; LT Devontae McCrae, 6-5, 255, Sr.; LG Avery Hall, 6-3, 315, Sr.; C Teron Carey, 6-1, 260, Sr.; RG Tyquan Cooper, 6-2, 305, Sr.; RT Mark Fox, 6-5, 275, Jr.; WR Kiaryn Davis, 5-6, 155, Sr.; WR Nigel Bethel, 6-0, 170, Sr.; WR Quavon Beckford, 5-10, 165, Sr.; WR Justin Hill, 5-11, 195, Sr.; K Kendry Rosales, 5-10, 165, Sr.; ARM: QB Devin Black, 6-1, 165, Sr.; RB Brian Snead, 6-0, 197, Sr.; RB Larry Anderson, 6-0, 207, Sr.; OL Jeff Miller, 6-2, 270, So.; OL Myles Hunt-Cruz, 5-11, 285, Jr.; Malik Hunt-Cruz, 5-11, 275, Sr.; OL Nolan Troyer, 5-11, 240, So.; OL Jaime Ramirez, 6-2, 265, So.; WR Warren Thompson, 6-5, 195, Sr.; SL Jerome Ford, 5-11, 203, Sr.; WR Ezeriah Anderson, 6-3, 180, Jr.; K Adrian Olivo, 5-9, 155, Jr.
Probable defensive starters – NW: CB Divaad Wilson, 6-0, 185, Sr.; CB Rachad Wildgoose, 5-11, 185, Sr.; S Sharod Oliver, 6-1, 180, Sr.; S Larry Robins, 5-9, 180, Jr.; LB Derrick Nicholson, 6-2, 185, Sr.; LB Aaron Louis, 5-11, 190, Sr.; DE Demarco Harris, 6-5, 205, Sr.; DT Calijah Kancey, 6-1, 258, Jr.; NG Demtrius Mayes, 6-2, 235, Sr.; DT Walter Fowles, 6-2, 265, Sr.; DE Zechariah Esdaille, 6-3, 225, Sr.; P Larry Robins, 5-9, 180, Jr.; ARM: DL Malcolm Lamar, 6-5, 285, Sr.; DL Allah Whittaker, 5-9, 195, Sr.; DL Fitzroy Gardner, 6-3, 220, Sr.; OLB Ricardo Watson, 6-0, 340, Jr.; ILB James Miller, 6-2, 225, Sr.; ILB De’Shard Hughes, 5-11, 215, Sr.; OLB Caleb Sutherland, 6-0, 185, Sr.; CB De’Kwan Hughes, 5-11, 165, So.; S Jhonny Quest, 5-11, 165, Sr.; S Jalil Core, 5-11, 170, So.; CB Markeis Colvin, 5-11, 195, Sr.; P Ricardo Watson, 6-0, 340, Jr.