Nova Southeastern’s Don Taft Arena became the hub of the high school football world for a few hours Saturday.
It was the only place you could find the nation’s top-ranked team, St. Thomas Aquinas. And the state of Florida’s first female head coach, Jackson’s Bernice Brunson.
And two more nationally ranked high schools (Miami Central and Miami Booker T. Washington) that are vying to become the first schools in state history to win five consecutive state titles.
And more than 500 football players, including over 100 with offers from Football Subdivision schools.
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South Florida’s standouts and pioneers gathered to see and be seen during the fourth annual Miami Dolphins High School Football Media Day.
More than 15 standouts from Aquinas’ squad, which enters the season ranked No. 1 nationally by MaxPreps, showed up in force Saturday.
Trevon Grimes, rated the No. 3 receiver in the nation by 247Sports, highlighted Aquinas’ offensive stars that showed up at the event.
“Coming into this year, we have a lot of expectations and a lot of pressure,” said Grimes, who has numerous scholarship offers, including Alabama, Ohio State, Florida, Florida State, Miami and Georgia. “There are a lot of people who want to see us do big things, and a lot of people who want to see us fail.”
Among the contingent of defensive stars such as Notre Dame commitment Drew White and Mississippi State commitment Tyler Dunning — two of the leaders on a deep Raiders defense.
Both said they’ve benefited tremendously from playing against a potent offense led by UF-bound quarterback Jake Allen and a core of receivers considered one of the best units in the country.
“It just gets us better because there’s no other team with the depth like us,” Dunning said. “It just feels like an easy Friday night win every week.”
In addition to its chase for the school’s third mythical national championship, the Raiders are trying to win three consecutive state titles for the first time in their storied history.
Aquinas is also trying to become the first team from South Florida to win 10 state championships, which would make it only the second program in state history to win 10 or more in the playoff era.
“Coach [Roger] Harriott has done a great job bonding us together and we’re going to take it game by game and prove we’re up to the challenge,” White said.
Aquinas’ schedule won’t be easy.
The Raiders open the regular season with a game against four-time reigning Class 4A state champion Booker T. Washington on Aug. 26 at Traz Powell Stadium.
Aquinas will then take on arguably its biggest challenge when it travels to Las Vegas for a showdown with No. 3 Bishop Gorman of Nevada in a nationally televised game Sept. 30 on ESPN.
“It’s a great way for all of us to showcase our talents and show an audience on national television what we’ve got at St. Thomas Aquinas,” White said.
Brunson made history on Feb. 8 when she was hired to become the head coach at Miami Jackson.
And it didn’t take her long to fit right in with her players.
“Even before they announced [her hiring], I thought it should be good,” senior receiver and N.C. State commitment Nakia Robinson said. “She knew what she was doing like a normal football coach.
“She’s calm, but when she talks to us, it’s all about business. Anything that a male football coach would normally say, she’ll say, too.”
Brunson will coach her first game Aug. 18 when the Generals take on Coral Reef in a preseason classic at North Miami Stadium. Jackson will then play Columbus in its regular-season opener Aug. 26 at Curtis Park.
“It’s been a lot of long hours just making sure the kids are where they need to be grades-wise and everything else,” Brunson said. “I had been working at the school for a year. The kids and I respect each other. They know when it’s time to go to work.”