American Heritage saw its two-year reign at the top of Class 5A stopped last season by Hallandale.
The Patriots enter the year with high expectations of winning their third state title in four seasons under new coach and former Miami Dolphins Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Surtain.
Heritage’s bounce-back win over Georgia’s Colquitt County showed the Patriots are still the class of Class 5A — and favorite to win it all.
But reports of Hallandale’s demise after the departure of coach Dameon Jones were exaggerated as evidenced by the Chargers’ upset of Deerfield Beach in Week 1.
And although Jones left Hallandale, he didn’t venture too far. Jones replaced Jason Milgrom at Chaminade-Madonna before the season started, and the Lions might just come away with state championship gold in Class 3A.
1. American Heritage: After guiding the Patriots to a pair of state titles in 2013 and 2014, Mike Rumph left to coach at the University of Miami following last season’s regional semifinal appearance.
The Patriots have a talented squad and return enough key players on offense to remain formidable and a defense that should rank among the state’s best.
If Heritage can develop a consistent running game, it should be able to wear opposing teams down with their offensive line, which ranks among the best in the country.
Hallandale figures to once again be Heritage’s toughest challenge in district and even the early rounds of the playoffs. The Patriots have a brutal early schedule that continues with a game against Don Bosco Prep in week 2.
2. Hallandale: The loss of quarterback Tyler Huntley, running back Zack Moss and numerous other seniors — as well as the departure of Jones — raised doubts about the Chargers.
A solid summer and a great start last week with a victory over Deerfield Beach has shown Hallandale is in good hands under former Booker T. Washington assistant coach Benedick Hyppolite and his staff.
The Chargers have some tough games early in the season that will test Hyppolite’s young squad. But Hallandale has a very good chance of surprising people this season and competing for a district championship, and possibly more.
3. Chaminade-Madonna: Jones made a surprise return to the sidelines just before fall practices began after Milgrom stepped down. The squad he inherited remained intact and looks like it can be one of the most talented the team has fielded since the early 2000s when it won a pair of state championships.
Led by quarterback Henry Colombi and running back Shaun Shivers, one of the most potent offenses in Broward should be fun to watch. The Lions should be improved enough to battle Palm Beach powerhouses Oxbridge Academy and Delray American Heritage for a chance to reach Orlando.
4. Cardinal Gibbons: Matt DuBuc takes over after longtime coach Mike Morrill stepped down. DuBuc, a Gibbons alum and assistant coach the past 12 seasons, is no stranger to the program and should help the Chiefs exceed expectations in District 16-5A. Gibbons will have it tough dealing with American Heritage, Hallandale and Miami Jackson, but it should make things interesting in one of the state’s deepest districts.
5. University School: The Sharks lost a lot of key players to transfers and graduation but second-year coach Daniel Luque’s veteran coaching staff is too good not to keep University in the mix for a return to the postseason. It will be difficult with Belle Glade Glades Central and Clewiston blocking their path in District 7-4A, but not impossible.
6. Coconut Creek: Former Miami Central assistant Gerald Cox takes over a program that lost one of Broward’s best quarterbacks and three All-Americans. It will take a little bit of time, but expect the Cougars to make some strides and improve for the future as the season goes on.
7. Archbishop McCarthy: The Mavericks lost plenty of key players from last year’s team that won the Gold Coast Independent Conference. Veteran coach Byron Walker returns eight starters on each side, however. McCarthy should be strong enough to compete for another conference championship despite the fact four key members of the Southeastern Football Conference moved in.
8. Stranahan: The Dragons should continue to improve this season, but have the misfortune of being in one of the state’s toughest districts.
9. Calvary Christian: A season removed from winning the SFC title, the Eagles are looking to become champions in a new conference this season. Calvary returns a strong group on both sides of the ball that learned from last year’s conference runner-up finish and should be able to compete with McCarthy for the Gold Coast title.
10. Westminster Academy: The Lions have a potent offense that should keep them among the Gold Coast Conference’s elite this year. How well they can limit teams from scoring will determine whether or not they can win it.
- 11. International School of Broward: The Pumas have one of the toughest schedules of any team in the country with multiple out-of-state games. Expect the young program to be competitive, but competing with Champagnat Catholic in District 8-2A will be difficult.
12. Coral Springs Charter: A year after winning the SFC title, the Panthers are starting over under new coach Matt Garris. Charter lost a lot from last season, but should still be competitive enough to vie for the Gold Coast title by season’s end.
13. North Broward: The Eagles have one of the county’s top receivers in Kevin Austin and should have a chance to make the playoffs in the revamped Gold Coast Conference.
14. Pompano Beach: The Golden Tornadoes won the American division of the Southeastern Conference last year. They have a bigger challenge trying to break through in the larger Gold Coast Conference.
15. Pine Crest: The Panthers should thrive in the new Southeastern Conference.
16. Coral Glades: The Jaguars got better in the offseason, but so did their conference.
17. Highlands Christian: The Knights might make a run in the Florida Independent Football Conference.
18. Somerset-Pines: The Panthers need a win following a 0-10 season.