All Kivon Bennett heard growing up was how he needed to be like his father.
“All I heard growing up was, ‘Be like Biscuit. Be like Biscuit,” the 6-2, 250-pound St. Thomas Aquinas junior defensive lineman said. “I think it was hard for me at first because I felt like if I didn’t meet certain expectations I would probably never meet them.
“But now as far as growing up, I’ve adjusted to it. I’ve learned to use it as fuel. It’s such a great example that’s been set. If I can be like my dad or better that’s amazing for me.”
Bennett’s dad is someone who sticks in the craw of Dolphins fans: five-time Pro Bowl linebacker and former Buffalo Bills sack specialist Cornelius Bennett.
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For now, Kivon will remain best known for being the son of a famous football star. But by midnight Friday at the Citrus Bowl, after Aquinas (12-1) tangles with Melbourne Viera (10-4) in the Class 7A state championship game, Kivon and several other Aquinas teammates with famous dads may have begun etching their own paths to greatness.
The Raiders, producers of eight state titles, two national championships and dozens of NFL players over the past 25 years, feature the sons of six former NFL players (Bennett, John Bosa, Asante Samuel, Benny Sapp, Michael Irvin and Darryl Williams), the son of longtime Heat forward Udonis Haslem, and the nephew of four-time Pro Bowl receiver Isaac Bruce.
Bennett’s emergence has been as valuable as any during the Raiders’ playoff run. After Bosa’s son, Nick, a five-star recruit and Ohio State commitment, went down with a partially torn ACL for the season in October, Bennett has gone from being a rotation player at the start of the season to a key starter since the playoffs began.
Samuel’s son, Asante Jr., a 5-10, 165-pound sophomore cornerback, is tied for the team lead in interceptions (four) with Vanderbilt-bound senior Frank Coppet.
Williams’ son, Mark, a 6-foot, 160-pound senior, is the starter at safety and has 26 tackles (six for loss), an interception and is tied for the team lead in pass deflections (6).
On offense, senior Sam Bruce, a University of Miami commitment, leads the team with 41 catches for 366 yards and three touchdowns, and Michael Irvin II, also a UM commitment, ranks third with 26 catches for 258 yards and two scores.
Haslem’s son, Kedonis, a 6-3, 290-pound junior and former defensive tackle, has found a home as the team’s backup right tackle, coach Roger Harriott said.
All have played vital roles or helped provide depth on an Aquinas roster that has sustained season-ending injuries to 13 players (five defensive starters), including the team’s leading tackler and sacker, the No. 1 and No. 2 running backs in the spring and the starting left tackle.
“We have a strong pedigree out here,” Harriott said. “We just feel like we’re extremely blessed to continue to win through the adversity we’ve faced. We’ve established an authentic sense of love and admiration for one another. That’s why we’re winning to be honest with you.
“We call it the epic story. And Friday’s game is the last chapter.”
Not all of the heroes for Aquinas this season have famous fathers or are regarded as blue-chip recruits.
Senior Colin Nace, one of 11 players on last year’s state championship team to return from the two-deep (Aquinas did not return a single starter), has been a quiet leader on the defensive line in the absence of Bosa, Harriott said.
Kicker James McCourt, plagued by a groin injury as a junior, has handled the kicking and punting duties all season. He’s 14 of 18 on field goals, 35 for 35 on extra points and is averaging nearly 35 yards a punt. He’s committed to Illinois.
And running back Jaxson Kincaide, once fourth-string in the spring, has run for 1,169 yards and 10 touchdowns and 8.1 yards a carry in filling in for Utah-bound Devontae Henry-Cole, 2017 Illinois commitment Michael Epstein and FAU-bound rusher James Charles, who has battled an ankle injury this season.
After having all seniors except Bosa starting on last year’s state-title team, the Raiders have five juniors (receiver Trevon Grimes, right tackle Cody Bowes, quarterback Jack Allen, defensive end Tyler Dunning and Bennett) and five sophomores (right guard Jason Swann, defensive end Nikolas Bonitto, linebacker Darrell Shelton, linebacker Adetutu Daranijo and Samuel) on this year’s starting lineup.
“To me it’s a testament to our coaches and about preparing the next man up,” Nace said. “Not only this season, but future seasons as well.”
Football state finals
When: Friday and Saturday.
Where: The Citrus Bowl, 1 Citrus Bowl Place, Orlando.
Admission: $12 per session; Parking: $10.
Friday’s schedule – Class 5A: Orlando Bishop Moore (13-1) vs. Crawfordville Wakulla (13-1), 1:07; Class 7A: St. Thomas Aquinas (12-1) vs. Viera (10-4), 7:07.
Saturday’s schedule – Class 6A: Miami Central (11-2) vs. Seffner Armwood (14-0), 1:07; Class 8A: Flanagan (11-2) vs. Kissimmee Osceola (13-1), 7:07.
Class 7A final
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS (12-1)
VS. VIERA (10-4)
Coaches – STA: Roger Harriott (1st year at STA, 12-1; 9th overall, 89-16); VIERA: Kevin Mays (5th overall, 32-20).
State experience – STA: 8-7 (won state titles in 1992, 1997, 1999, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014); VIERA: First appearance.
Road to state – STA: d. Royal Palm Beach 29-0; Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer 24-7; Mater Academy 60-7; Bradenton Braden River 27-10; VIERA: d. Harmony 38-6; Stuart Martin County 47-17; Lakeland 24-14; Lake City Columbia 42-23.