If Booker T. Washington’s streak of winning state championships was going to end, it would have happened last season.
The Tornadoes defied expectations, overcoming the departure of numerous players on its way to winning a fourth consecutive state championship.
After last Friday night’s win over St. Thomas Aquinas, Booker T. isn’t just the favorite to make history as the state’s first team to win five state championships in a row, it will have a chance to add to that a national championship.
1. Booker T. Washington: Coach Ice Harris is back. And as simple as that, the Tornadoes are one of the nation’s top teams and already eying a potential national championship, which would be the school’s second in the past four seasons.
Sophomore quarterback Daniel Richardson has the potential to become one of the best ever in Miami-Dade County, and likely break all kinds of records in the process.
The Tornadoes’ offensive line led by Willa Pierre and Kadeem Telfort is the biggest and probably the best the school has had since it returned to action in 1999.
If that group stays healthy, Booker T. will likely be able to run and throw the ball at will on opposing defenses. Its own defense is no slouch, as it proved by forcing four turnovers against Aquinas.
The veteran Tornadoes squad is still relatively young in terms of age at key positions. A victory over Central in less than a month would open the door to a potential national championship.
Booker T.’s path to another state title looks likely in Class 4A as it would face its usual round of familiar foes like Glades Central, Cocoa and maybe even Jacksonville Bolles.
The question is will the national pollsters reward the Tornadoes if they go 14-0?
2. Champagnat Catholic: Following a dismal 3-7 season in coach Dennis Marroquin’s first season, the Lions added more depth and talent to their roster in a bid to win the Class 2A state title for the second time in four seasons.
If Champagnat can stay healthy at key positions, the Lions should be able to cruise through a district that shrunk after Dade Christian dropped football and Belle Glade Glades Day went independent.
From that point on, it will depend on the Lions’ maturity if they can navigate their way past a couple of tough road playoff games and return to Orlando.
3. Jackson: Under pioneering head coach Bernice Brunson, the first female head coach in state history, and defensive coordinator Luther Campbell, the Generals are aiming to return to the playoffs after a one-year absence.
Jackson is skilled on offense and defense, but needs to develop some depth if it’s to withstand tough district games against American Heritage, Hallandale, Cardinal Gibbons, Coconut Creek and Stranahan.
A tough nondistrict schedule should toughen Jackson up for the stretch run. Beating Heritage seems like a tall order, and Hallandale is still one of the state’s best. There’s no reason to think it can’t battle for at least the runner-up spot in District 16-5A.
4. Edison: The Red Raiders were one score from a potential playoff spot last season when they lost to Gulliver. They’re hoping the experience of getting so close will help them take the next step this year and break the school’s 11-year playoff drought. Booker T. Washington is the king of the district, but expect the Red Raiders to find themselves in the thick of a three-team battle with Keys Gate and Pace for the runner-up spot.
5. Keys Gate: Former Coral Reef coach Chevas Clements takes over this young program and has it pointed toward playoff contention in District 8-4A. The Knights have plenty of skill-position talent, but can they hold up in the trenches against foes such as Edison and Pace. Success against those teams will decide whether they make the postseason.
6. Monsignor Pace: Veteran coach Joe Zaccheo endured his first season back coaching the Spartans with a roster of mostly freshmen and sophomores. After taking their lumps last season, this squad could be on the verge of a breakthrough.
Pace isn’t ready to contend with Booker T. Washington in the district, but with a year of experience the young Spartans should be ready to push Edison and Keys Gate for the runner-up playoff spot.
7. Gulliver: The Raiders chose to go independent for a season and leave District 8-4A. Gulliver still has plenty of talent and plays a tough schedule that it hopes gains experience heading into next season when the plan is to rejoin a district.
8. Westminster Christian: Former Jackson coach Earl Little enters his first season guiding a young Warriors squad, and hoping to lead them back to the postseason. Little has had success wherever he has coached, and his defenses are always strong. The Warriors should be good enough to grab a playoff berth after Chaminade and build toward the future.
9. La Salle: After the departure of several teams from the Southeastern Independent Football Conference, the Royal Lions appear to have a chance to make it deep in the conference’s playoffs. A solid running game and athletic defense could push La Salle to a winning season.
10. Hialeah-Miami Lakes: The Trojans are starting over with a new coach in a new district. With one of the nation’s top five teams leading the pack, and three solid playoff contenders in the way, it’s hard to see them making the playoffs this season.
The rest: 11. Somerset Silver Palms; 12. Everglades Prep; 13. Ransom Everglades; 14. Florida Christian; 15. Palmer Trinity; 16. Miami Country Day; 17. Scheck Hillel; 18. Palm Glades Prep; 19. Pinecrest Prep.