Miami-Dade High Schools

Improved Champagnat could repeat as state champs

High school football teams rarely have a wide receiver duo with potential NFL talent.

That’s the case at Hialeah Champagnat Catholic where junior Darnell Salomon and senior Steven Claude hope to one day play football on Sundays.

“Darnell wants to be like Calvin Johnson, and I try to play like Andre Johnson,” Claude said. “Me and Darnell and a great bond. We push each other every day in practice and workouts, and we try to be the best.”

Claude (6-1, 190 pounds), a Wake Forest commitment, and Salomon (6-3, 190), who holds more than 30 FBS scholarship offers, combined for almost 1,600 yards and 16 touchdowns last season leading Champagnat to a 14-0 season and its first state title.

The duo hopes to lead an explosive offense to another prolific season in which they will try to make Champagnat the first Miami-Dade County private school to win back-to-back state titles.

Salomon, rated the No. 3 junior in Miami-Dade County by the Miami Herald, finished with a county-best 896 yards on 47 catches and nine touchdowns last season. Claude caught 40 passes for 694 yards and seven touchdowns.

Both will benefit from the core of Champagnat’s offense returning.

Junior quarterback Kato Nelson (2,414 yards, 31 TDs, 5 INTs) should thrive behind a stout offensive line led by 6-4, 290-pound senior Christian Strachan. Senior Michael Frederick will be the featured running back.

On defense is where the Lions may be more improved.

Senior Kedrick Labady, who had 25 sacks last season, is the leader of the unit and along with linebacker Travorie McRae, the Lions should be able to put solid pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Champagnat Catholic strengthened its schedule with games against Jacksonville Trinity Christian and IMG Academy, as well as a preseason classic against Coral Gables.

“We have a great team with us and our quarterback and our running game,” Claude said. “If everything comes together, we have a great chance to win it again.”

Team to beat: Champagnat Catholic. The Lions have a tougher schedule that might keep them from going undefeated again. Champagnat has far too much talent, however, not to win the district and be considered the favorite to win the Class 2A state championship.

Player to watch: Kedrick Labady, Champagnat Catholic defensive linemen. Overshadowed a little bit last year in terms of hype by top recruit Travonte Valentine, expect Labady to have another great season as he takes leadership on a tough defense for the Lions.

Biggest game: Sept. 19 Champagnat at Dade Christian. The Lions figure to be the clear favorite in District 8-2A. But the Crusaders tend to play Champagnat tough every season.

Predicted order of finish: 1. Champagnat Catholic; 2. Dade Christian; 3. Barrington Christian.