High School Sports

Path to most state titles travels through S. Florida

Flanagan proudly displays the 2015 state championship trophy in football, the first at the school. The Falcons aim to defend their Class 8A state title under a new coach, Stanford Samuels II.
Flanagan proudly displays the 2015 state championship trophy in football, the first at the school. The Falcons aim to defend their Class 8A state title under a new coach, Stanford Samuels II. lriely@miamiherald.com

Miami-Dade and Broward County teams have combined to win four or more state championships each of the past four seasons.

With at least one major contender in every classification except 1A, which has no Dade or Broward teams, it’s not far-fetched to believe South Florida could keep the streak going or even claim more this season.

CLASS 8A (2015 final: Pembroke Pines Flanagan 26, Kissimmee Osceola 7).

Regions 1-2: Apopka had its string of three consecutive trips to state snapped by Kissimmee Osceola after the Kowboys moved up from Class 7A. With 14 starters back, Apopka appears to be in good shape for a return to the state final. Osceola, which failed to overcome the stifling Flanagan defense in the final, lost the majority of its offensive starters. If the defense, which brings back seven starters, can hold the fort until the offense clicks, Osceola could find itself in a third consecutive state championship game. Challengers abound including Bradenton Manatee, which is looking to recapture its former glory, and an always talented Dr. Phillips squad.

Regions 3-4: The south side of the state’s largest class has had a Dade or Broward representative every year since 1991. The last team to make it in consecutive seasons was Miami Northwestern during its three-year run from 2006 to 2008. Flanagan’s road to a potential repeat will be tough with seven starters gone from that stingy defense, but not impossible. New coach Stanford Samuels II, and his son, star cornerback Stanford Samuels III, will try to navigate the Falcons through a tough district that features rival Miramar, and a region with contenders like Deerfield Beach, which appears to have its best chance at making it to state for the first time since 2005. Columbus has advanced to at least the final four in four of the past five seasons. And can Southridge make a return to its glory days of the 1990s?

CLASS 7A (2015 final: Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas 45, Viera 10).

Regions 1-2: Lakeland and Plant are the teams with the most history of winning championships on this side of the bracket, and each has enough talent to make a run to Orlando again this season. The Dreadnaughts return 14 starters and hope to make it to state for the first time since 2008. Lakeland and Plant might collide once again in the playoffs as the Panthers return the bulk of their starting lineup, too. Columbia should once again emerge as one of the top teams from the Gainesville region, led by quarterback Davin Schuck, one of the state’s prolific passers. Viera and Venice also appear to be strong contenders.

Regions 3-4: St. Thomas Aquinas has never won three state championships in a row. If the Raiders live up to their potential, that should change this season. Aquinas entered the year ranked No. 1 in the nation and will likely vie for its 10th state title. Quarterback Jake Allen returns with arguably the most talented group of receivers in the country to throw the ball to as well as a talented backfield. Both lines are among the best and linebacker Drew White leads a stacked defensive unit. Braden River and Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer each figure to have the best chances at slowing down Aquinas in the postseason, but it’s hard to see this team having any difficulty getting back to Orlando and ruling this class once again.

CLASS 6A (2015 final: Miami Central 48, Seffner Armwood 13).

Regions 1-2: Armwood has faced Miami Central in the state final and lost each of the past three seasons. The Hawks also beat Central in 2011, the year they and the Rockets subsequently forfeited their wins that season. It’s hard to see Armwood not emerging from the north end of this class again this year, and potentially earning yet another date with Central. Transfer quarterback Devin Black threw for more than 2,000 yards last season and will be aided by a deep backfield led by last year’s quarterback Darian McNeal, who switched over to running back. If any team can derail Armwood on the way to Orlando, it might be Pensacola Pine Forest or a veteran St. Augustine squad if it can come together on offense. But it’s not likely.

Regions 3-4: Central is looking to make history by becoming the first team in state history to win five consecutive state championships. The Rockets lost some of their main defensive stalwarts from last year, but a reloaded front seven will be led by linebacker Waynmon Steed. James Cook, the younger brother of FSU tailback Dalvin Cook, figures to see a heavier workload in the backfield and benefit from running behind one of the best lines in the country. District rivals Carol City, Northwestern and Norland present early obstacles in district, but figure Daytona Beach Mainland to be the Rockets’ biggest obstacle, waiting for them again in the regional final round.

CLASS 5A (2015 final: Orlando Bishop Moore 37, Crawfordville Wakulla 34).

Regions 1-2: With no overwhelming favorite on the north end, Clay might be a squad that could find its way back in Orlando. Clay is three years removed from reaching the state final and appears to have a strong enough group to challenge as well. Tallahassee Rickards is another squad replete with talent this season and poised to make it to state for the first time. Ponte Vedra and Citra North Marion could be sleeper contenders as well.

Regions 3-4: American Heritage had its bid at a three-peat stopped by Hallandale in last year’s regional finals. Coach Mike Rumph left to coach at the University of Miami, and the Patriots promoted defensive coordinator and former Miami Dolphins cornerback Patrick Surtain to head coach. The Patriots entered the season ranked nationally and sporting one of the state’s best offensive lines led by T.J. Slaton. The Patriots will be favored to once again to win a tough District 16-5A and make a bid for their third state title in four years. Statewide, their biggest obstacle could be a tough Tampa Jesuit squad, led by explosive running back Malik Davis. Bishop Moore secured the state championship in dramatic fashion last season, but returns only three defensive starters, which could make a repeat tough.

CLASS 4A (2015 final: Miami Booker T. Washington 43, Jacksonville Bolles 23).

Regions 1-2: Raines broke a string of four consecutive trips to state by district rival Bolles in a battle of Jacksonville district rivals. Raines graduated a lot or players from last season, but should still be one of the top contenders to secure a berth in Orlando. Led by quarterback Mac Jones, an Alabama commitment, Bolles figures to have the right formula to return to state for the 17th time and try to add to its state-record 11 championships. Bushnell South Sumter and Dunnellon are two talented squads capable of breaking through the Jacksonville juggernauts.

Regions 3-4: Booker T. Washington, like rival Miami Central, is aiming for a state-record five consecutive state titles. After overcoming plenty of adversity last season to keep their streak alive, the Tornadoes return to a familiar role as favorites to win it all. Their path to Orlando should include plenty of familiar foes such as Belle Glade Glades Central and of course, Cocoa. Booker T. Washington has made Cocoa miserable five consecutive seasons, beating the Tigers each year in the state semifinal round. Cocoa, which would host this year’s potential encounter, returns 17 starters, led by senior quarterback Bruce Judson.

CLASS 3A (2015 final: Jacksonville Trinity Christian 30, Delray Beach American Heritage 3).

Regions 1-2: Every team in this class will be aiming to dethrone Trinity Christian. Good luck with that. The aptly-named Conquerors are still loaded enough to do exactly that to every team in this class and claim a fourth consecutive state championship. New quarterback Legend Brumbaugh has a cool name and an accurate enough arm to get the job done and keep this Jacksonville powerhouse’s dominance going. An experienced Ocala Trinity Catholic squad and Tampa Catholic present potential challenges in the playoffs, but it would take a major upset for either to reach Orlando.

Regions 3-4: The south side is once again loaded, with Chaminade-Madonna potentially becoming one of the most interesting stories of the season. Following the departure of coach Jason Milgrom, the Lions hired former Hallandale coach Dameon Jones and should have their most talented squad since the mid-2000s when Mark Guandolo led them to a pair of state titles. District rival Westminster Christian is tough, and the major challenge awaits either in regionals when they would have to go through either Delray American Heritage or Oxbridge Academy or even both to get to state.

CLASS 2A (2015 final: Jacksonville University Christian 61, Tampa Cambridge 16).

Regions 1-2: University Christian entered the season as the clear favorite to repeat in this class and win their third state title since 2012. The Christians are led by senior running back Otis Anderson, a UCF commit, who will run behind one of the best offensive lines in the state. Lakeland Victory Christian is another perennial powerhouse on the north side that returns a strong squad. The Storm was young in 2015, but picked up a lot of experience that should pay off this season. Expect these two to meet in the semifinals and decide who will play in Orlando. University Christian is chasing its ninth state title and Victory Christian is vying for its second in three seasons.

Regions 3-4: After year after suffering a blowout loss at state against University Christian, Cambridge returns the majority of its squad. The Lancers should have plenty of firepower on offense led by quarterback Jaylin Jackson and figure to be the strongest contender on the bottom half of the bracket. Champagnat Catholic, a state champion in 2013, looks to make a run after a rebuilding season under second-year coach Dennis Marroquin. The Lions have enough talent to win their district and at least get within striking distance of Orlando.

CLASS 1A (2015 final: Trenton 56, Port St. Joe 21).

Regions 1-2: Port St. Joe suffered its only two defeats of the 2015 season against Trenton. The Tiger Sharks have a talented squad capable of earning a rematch or at least another berth in Orlando. Athletic quarterback Aaron Paul leads a potent offense that will rely heavily on its starters at first until it develops some depth. Their defense, led by junior Alvin Dempsey, should still be one of the best in this classification. South Walton, Blountstown and Chipley figure to be contenders as well.

Regions 3-4: The deeper side of the bracket is definitely in the south with reigning champion Trenton, Madison County, Lake Butler Union County, Fort Meade and Pahokee among the teams vying for supremacy. Trenton thoroughly dominated its competition last year, outscoring its opponents by over 500 points. They will be tough to take down, but an experienced Madison County squad and an explosive Pahokee team trying to return to past glory might have enough.