As he met with his players before Monday’s first football practice, Norland coach Daryle Heidelburg found himself trying to match names with faces.
The most recognizable face in the team’s recent history, Duke Johnson, wasn’t among the group.
Johnson, now a freshman at the University of Miami, was last year’s Mr. Florida award winner (given to the state’s top overall player) after leading the Vikings to a 15-0 record and a top 10 national ranking.
Heidelburg hopes a mostly new, but still talented, group of stars will emerge to prove Norland is more than a one-hit wonder.
“We don’t want to just have one good state championship team and that’s it,” Heidelburg said. “We feel we have a program that can be in the thick of things every year.”
Norland began the “post-Duke era” Monday ranked in only one national poll — and at No. 91 in Rivals High’s Top 100. Pundits doubt whether an offense that, in addition to Johnson, lost eight starters can be potent enough as it has been the past two seasons.
It may not have to be.
Norland enters the season with one of the top defenses in the state and arguably one of the best lines in the nation. Six defensive starters already have at least one scholarship offer from a Football Bowl Subdivision school.
Senior defensive end Paul James (6-4, 255) has close to 20 offers. James will start opposite Torrin Young, a 6-3, 250-pound senior who transferred from Fort Lauderdale Dillard. The interior line will be anchored by two stalwarts from last year’s squad — 6-2, 280-pound senior tackle Rafiki Lindsay and 6-0, 280-pound senior tackle Anari Ragin.
“We feel very good about our situation because we feel like we can all trust each other on every play,” Lindsay said. “We really have a chance to bring the title back again.”
Linebacker Treyvon Williams, who had 95 tackles and four sacks and was one of the top performers in the Class 5A final last season, and senior Shafique Neloms are two of the best in the county.
They will operate in front of a secondary that got stronger with the arrival of senior transfers Arsenio Frederick, a strong safety, and Jakime Jenkins, a cornerback. They join returning senior starters Jerimiah Dinson and Raymond Attly.
“We’re a very hungry team this year,” Young said. “All of us are very competitive. The offense is young, but they will get better because they’re learning from facing us every day in practice.”
So who will carry the load on that offense?
Heidelburg said they will run the ball by committee at first among juniors Khalil Murat and La’Keith Stafford.
The starting quarterback has not been named, but whoever wins the job will have two talented receivers to throw to. Juniors Zayquon Tyson and Kendrick Edwards are two of the better playmakers at the position Norland has had in recent years.
Heidelburg expects a bigger offensive line to help the unit progress quickly. Senior right guard Joshua Mincey (6-0, 265) and senior right tackle Clifford Delva (6-2, 230) were starters last season. Left guard Quamaine Jones (6-2, 260), junior left tackle Mac Viel (6-5, 330) and junior center Timothy Isom round out the group.
“Everyone wants to see what we will do now that Duke’s gone,” Heidelburg said. “We’re excited for the challenge and ready to see what these kids can do.”
A Hollywood Chaminade boys’ basketball program in dire need of a dose of excitement hopes former University School coach Andre Torres is just be what the doctor ordered.
Hiring Torres is an indication Chaminade is serious about restoring a program that has been on a steady decline since the 2005-06 season when it finished 19-6 and advanced to the regional semifinals.
Torres brings instant credibility, having turned a once-foundering Suns’ program into a small school power before stepping down last season. Torres inherited a 6-20 team six years ago and proceeded to build a 104-38 record on stifling defense and timely three-point shooting.
University School finished 24-5 last season after losing to eventual Class 4A state champion Pine Crest in the regional semifinals. In a surprising turn of events, Torres stepped down, leading to Suns’ players circulating a petition of support for Torres that garnered more than 600 signatures from fellow students.