Flanagan secured its first state championship last season and completed an impressive three-year ascent under coach Devin Bush.
Bush has since departed to coach at the University of Michigan, his protégé Stanford Samuels taking charge of a program that believes it is still strong enough to make a return trip to Orlando.
The Falcons might find the road very difficult in what is a wide-open south region in Class 8A.
Deerfield Beach hasn’t been to state since 2005, but has its most talented squad since its teams in the late 2000s.
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And following a rebuilding season, Miramar is ready for a big comeback.
1. St. Thomas Aquinas: Don’t let the setback against Booker T. Washington fool you. This team came within less than a yard of still being undefeated and on the march to a national championship.
The Raiders are loaded at every position, and winning a 10th state championship while securing their storied program’s first ever three-peat appears to be a given.
If Aquinas gets back on track during the next few weeks against fellow contenders such as Miramar and Hallandale, it will be interesting to see if it can jump back into the national title chase when it plays Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas.
2. Deerfield Beach: The Bucks haven’t advanced past the regional semifinals since 2008. Twice in the past three seasons, promising Deerfield Beach seasons have ended abruptly thanks to Miramar (2013) and Flanagan (2015).
Doubts about the Bucks surfaced this past week after their opening-week loss to Hallandale. This team is too talented not to be in the thick of the Class 8A playoff chase come November. The question remains if it can remain consistent enough to make it past those early rounds and through the best of Palm Beach and Miami-Dade.
3. Miramar: This could be the team that surprises and makes it back to state for the first time since 2011.
Pierre Senatus, a former longtime assistant coach at national powerhouse Miami Booker T. Washington, enters his second season at the helm of the Patriots. His team went through a tough 5-5 season last year and fell short of the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
Miramar returns a strong defensive group reminiscent of the ones that propelled it to or close to a state championship and an offense that showed make plenty of strides this season. While Deerfield Beach appears to have the most talent among the group of contending Class 8A teams, expect Miramar to be a formidable obstacle for the Bucks and reigning state champion Flanagan.
4. Flanagan: The Falcons might get off to a little bit of a slow start as they try to overcome the loss of so many key players from their state championship run. But it shouldn’t be long before this team is on the doorstep of making it back to Orlando.
If the Falcons’ first-time starters can develop quickly, they should still have a shot at winning the district and set up playoff clashes with their longtime rivals.
5. Boyd Anderson: The Cobras underwent a coaching change just before the beginning of the season when Eddie Brown stepped down and assistant Quincy Woods was promoted to head coach.
Don’t expect that to detract Boyd Anderson one bit this season.
The Cobras look strong enough to repeat as district champions. The problem lies in the region, where Miami Central still appears to be a formidable obstacle on the road to state.
6. Piper: The Bengals should build off last season’s success and return to the playoffs in District 11-8A. I’m not convinced Piper can contend with Deerfield Beach for the district title and beyond, but the gap won’t be as wide as it was last year.
7. Western: Quarterback Harrison Story might emerge as one of the best signal-callers in Broward County this season. If he does and the Wildcats can play consistent defense to match their potent offense, look for them to make life difficult for district favorites Flanagan and Miramar.
8. Dillard: Sporting one of the county’s best defensive fronts, expect the Panthers to be a playoff team once again. How the offense comes along as the season progresses will dictate whether Dillard can contend with Boyd Anderson for the district title.
9. South Broward: The Bulldogs went 1-9 last year. They already matched that win total last week by beating perennially strong Cypress Bay. Expect South Broward to continue to add wins and likely come away with either the District 15-7A title or the runner-up spot.
10. McArthur: The Mustangs went 7-3 last year, but slipped up on the final week of the regular season and missed the playoffs. That should change this season.
11. Cypress Bay: Coach Mark Guandolo’s squad will be solid up front led by Jacob Lichtenstein. But the Lightning has a task on its hands to break through a tough upper echelon in District 12-8A.
12. Douglas: The Eagles remain one of the more competitive teams in District 11-8A. If Piper slips up, an experienced Douglas squad will likely be the team to benefit as it returns numerous starters from a year ago.
13. West Broward: Following its first ever playoff season, the Bobcats will be challenged by much-improved South Broward and McArthur squads trying to prevent them from making it back.
14. Fort Lauderdale: The Flying L’s appear to be good enough to secure a playoff berth in tiny District 14-7A if they can beat Blanche Ely.
15. Blanche Ely: The Tigers are starting over again with a new coach, Carl Wilburn. Their biggest game is against Fort Lauderdale, since a postseason berth will be on the line.
The rest: 16. Cooper City; 17. Plantation; 18. South Plantation; 19. Coral Springs; 20. Hollywood Hills; 21. Taravella; 22. Monarch; 23. Nova; 24. Everglades; 25. Northeast.