Normally when a team is coming off an appearance in the state semifinals, that’s big stuff. Something to brag about. Hang your hat on. Something you can really build your program on.
Unless you’re St. Thomas Aquinas.
At a program where the bar is set so ridiculously high that’s it’s sometimes even hard to see, there was nothing great about last year’s trip to the west coast and 27-20 loss to Venice in a 7A state semifinal.
Not when you’re the three-time defending state champions.
Not when you hang a total of 10 state championship banners on your field, second only to Jacksonville Bolles’ 11 for the most in the state.
Not when you’ve got a loaded roster littered with FBS recruits.
Nope. Last December’s loss to Venice, in which the Raiders had to watch their opponent go on and win the 7A title the following week in Orlando, was a humbling experience. One which has given coach Roger Harriott and his players a chance to hit the reset button and come out with a new revived hunger as the 2018 season gets under way.
“It was a very difficult experience, a very difficult night,” said Harriott who enters his fourth year at the controls of the program after having also led University School to a state title in 2012. “But disappointments are part of life and something you’re not always going to escape. As coaches and parents you look for opportunities to help your kids develop character and sometimes the best way to do that is through adversity. That’s a platform where you can kind of refocus and use those circumstances as a platform for motivation.”
“The Venice loss? It’s definitely motivating us,” added Raiders running back Daniel Carter who has offers from everywhere but remains uncommitted listing Kansas State, Oregon, Utah, Georgia and Pitt as his leading candidates. “It was one of those moments you wish you could have back, especially since I got hurt late in the game and had to come out and watch the end from the sidelines. But now we have a new team and a new season this year and we want to make sure we right a wrong from last season.”
Despite getting the door slammed on a fourth straight state title, the expectation level for St. Thomas football hasn’t changed. When Max Preps came out with its Top 25 national poll last month, there were the Raiders, right back in business, checking in at No. 9.
“The goal for us is always to play every game with a state championship effort,” said linebacker and Miami Hurricanes commit Anthony Solomon. “Our team right now, we have developed a really good bond over the offseason and we really do let the loss to Venice boil in our stomachs because that’s what’s helping driving us right now.”
“We’re extremely excited about the season moving forward,” said Harriott, who played for George Smith at St. Thomas in the mid-90s. “Our seniors have done a great job establishing a ‘win-now’ mentality. The ‘now’ part of that stands for ‘no opportunity wasted’ and they have bought into that. We have a great history at this program with a lot of success over the years with a great alumni base and certainly appreciate and never take for granted how fortunate we are.”
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