For the past decade, Columbus has started preparing for the upcoming season as soon as the clock hits midnight.
Trajan Bandy has seen that journey go from 12:01 a.m. that first night to within striking distance of a state championship in December twice in his high school career.
He isn’t hesitating to share that experience with any of his teammates this year.
“I really took the time to talk to the younger guys this offseason,” Bandy said. “We really need to play as a team and do the right things and be accountable. That’s just come with maturity and being around since freshman year. I’ve seen other guys be leaders and do that for me. And now I know how to be that guy.”
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Another thing Bandy knows how to do well is frustrate opposing offenses.
Quarterbacks will likely have a hard time when playing Columbus this season as Bandy leads one of the best defensive backfields in the state and possibly the country into the 2016 season.
Bandy, a highly coveted senior cornerback with offers from numerous high-profile FBS schools, along with University of Miami commitments Joshua Jobe, a junior, and C.J. Henderson, who will double as the team’s featured tailback and cornerback, lead what could be one of the best units in the school’s history.
Jobe (6-1, 180) is rated the No. 10 junior cornerback in the nation by 247Sports.com with Henderson (6-1, 175) rated No. 20 and Bandy (5-9, 180) at No. 29. The trio is joined by senior Austin Chacon.
“Looking defensively, we have the makings of one of the best secondaries in the country,” Columbus coach Chris Merritt said. “It’s going to allow us to do some things up front that allow us to pressure teams.”
Columbus has advanced to at least the state semifinals in four of the past five seasons, including a berth in the Class 8A state final in 2014.
Henderson and sophomore Darren Davis, Jr., give the Explorers a potent rushing attack they will count on as they break in a new starting quarterback — a position Miami High senior transfer Marcelo Rodriguez and senior Nick Gonzalez are vying for in the fall, according to Merritt.
A solid offensive line led by senior Robert Perez will anchor a young squad that returned only three starters but has plenty of players who gained experience off the bench last season.
“We have a lot of young kids but we’ve been going in the right direction with leadership,” Perez said. “I want to make it a point [to the younger guys] that we’re one unit.”
Although Columbus made it the furthest in 2015 among Dade schools in Class 8A, there are a handful of teams that could stop them from doing it again.
Miami Southridge, which is set to open full practices later this week, has nearly 20 high-level FBS recruits on its roster and figures to have its best chance to make it to state for the first time since 1999.
The Spartans, led by veteran coach Billy Rolle, along with Columbus will also have to contend with whoever emerges from a tight Broward County race in 8A that includes Deerfield Beach, Flanagan and Miramar.
Miami Central and Miami Booker T. Washington will each try to break the modern-era record for consecutive state championships as each vies for its fifth in a row.
Central, led by sophomore running back James Cook and an elite offensive line, enters the season ranked No. 16 nationally by MaxPreps.
The Rockets will again have to contend with district rival Miami Carol City, ranked No. 42 nationally, in District 16-6A.
Booker T. Washington brought back Tim “Ice” Harris this offseason for a third coaching stint with the Tornadoes, who start ranked No. 34 by MaxPreps.