High School Sports

Booker T. and Aquinas are prepared for a “clash of titans”

St. Thomas Aquinas senior quarterback Jake Allen has committed to play with the University of Florida.
St. Thomas Aquinas senior quarterback Jake Allen has committed to play with the University of Florida. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

It’s Broward County’s best versus Miami Dade’s finest — but it’s so much more than that.

It’s two of the top six high school football teams in the nation — according to the latest USA Today poll — playing 7:30 p.m. Friday at Traz Powell Stadium.

It’s No. 1 St. Thomas Aquinas’ power against No. 6 Booker T. Washington’s speed.

It’s Aquinas, a Fort Lauderdale private school that has won nine state titles versus Booker T., a Miami public school that has earned five crowns, including its current streak of four in a row.

“This is the main event this year,” said Corey Long of Friday Night Football magazine. “This is a clash of titans.”

Aquinas embarrassed Booker T. 35-3 last year when the teams played in Broward. The Raiders ended the Tornadoes’ 41-game win streak that night, but this game should be very different, according to Charles Fishbein of Elite Scouting Services.

“Booker T. started a freshman quarterback [Daniel Richardson] that night, and its receivers were sophomores,” Fishbein said.

Richardson and those receivers are among the Tornadoes who returned this year, and they also have coach Tim “Ice” Harris back after his run as a University of Miami assistant.

The Tornadoes dismantled American Heritage 27-7 last week in a preseason game. Heritage had been ranked sixth nationally, but the Patriots were whipped by a Booker T. defense that nearly had a shutout before giving up a fourth-quarter score with a 27-0 lead.

After that impressive win, Tornadoes players Jaquan Beaver and Robert Hicks were asked about the next challenge — Aquinas.

“We’re worried about St. Thomas, but we’re not really worried about them,” said Beaver, a junior linebacker. “They’re just like any other team.

“Basically, we feel like they’re not really ranked. We feel like we’re all-around better than them. We’re going to come out and dominate.”

Hicks, a senior linebacker, agreed.

“We have a big chip on our shoulders,” he said. “We said from day one that we would beat American Heritage and everybody else who stepped in front of us.”

Asked specifically about Aquinas, Hicks said: “They owe us from last year. That’s all I’ve got to say.”

The Tornadoes indeed owe the Raiders, but can they collect?

Aquinas graduated some top talent from last year’s team, most notably defensive end Nick Bosa (Ohio State), wide receiver Sam Bruce (Miami), running back Devontae Henry-Cole (Utah) and tight end Michael Irvin II (Miami).

But the Raiders, who went 13-1 last season and won the Class 7A state title, have plenty of talent on this year’s roster.

Leading the way for Aquinas are quarterback Jake Allen and wide receiver Trevon Grimes, both seniors. Allen has committed to the Florida Gators, and Grimes, rank the No. 1 receiver in the nation, is an Ohio State recruit.

“I would guess that all 22 Aquinas starters have Division I offers — it’s staggering,” Fishbein said. “It’s one of the two or three best Aquinas teams of the past 15 years and maybe the best.”

Booker T., with nine players committed to Division I schools, doesn’t have quite as many big-time recruits, but that’s at least partly due to the fact that the Tornadoes start so many underclassmen.

Friday’s game could come down to the Tornadoes smallish defenders against a huge Raiders offensive line. Booker T. linebackers Guy Thomas, who has committed to Nebraska, and Beaver weigh just 200 pounds.

“Aquinas will try to punch you in the mouth,” Fishbein said. “[Booker T.] is super fast and explosive and plays with that swagger of the old University of Miami teams. They don’t fear anyone … Neither team believes it will be beat.”