There’s no panic on Miami Central’s football team.
Even with two of the best running backs in Miami-Dade County history — Dalvin Cook and Joseph Yearby — gone from the Rockets’ roster, Central believes it can quiet the doubters starting this weekend in its nationally televised clash with Hoover (Alabama).
“I think our offense is going to show up and surprise a lot of people,” said Central coach Roland Smith, who has nine starters back on defense from last year’s 13-1 Class 6A state championship team but only four on offense.
“We’ve got three running backs nobody ever heard of because of the guys we had last year. But, believe me, these guys are good.”
Central, ranked as high as No. 8 nationally by USA Today, will need its blend of newcomers and veterans to be at their best when it opens the high school football season Saturday at noon against Hoover High at Buccaneer Stadium.
The game will be televised on ESPN and is part of a star-studded kickoff weekend of games for South Florida teams that also includes defending national champion Miami Booker T. Washington taking on Oscar Smith (Virginia) at 9 p.m. Saturday.
Hoover, ranked No. 3 nationally by MaxPreps.com, enters the game on a 30-game winning streak and has won eight state titles since 2000.
The team was featured on an MTV reality series Two-a-Days during its 2006 and 2007 seasons.
The Bucs’ defense is expected to be one of the toughest in the nation, led by defensive end Christian Bell, an Alabama commitment, linebacker Darrell Williams, an Auburn commitment, and a solid core of juniors.
Hoover’s offense is also formidable, with a running game led by Braderick Shaw (6-1, 195 pounds), quarterback Jack Hutcheson and Mississippi State commitment and wide receiver Justin Johnson.
Hoover has won its past five games against out-of-state opponents. Central is 2-3 in its past five games against out-of-state opponents but beat the last Alabama team it faced when it beat Prattville at Traz Powell Stadium in 2010.
Central is on a 12-game winning streak that began last season following a loss to Booker T. in the second week of the regular season.
This matchup with Hoover is the first of a three-game gauntlet to open the season that continues Aug. 30 at the Battle of the Borders Classic in Clarkston, Georgia, where the Rockets face Stephenson High.
Central returns home a week later to face Booker T. on Sept. 5 at Traz Powell.
“If you want to be good or you want to be great, you’ve got to play the best teams out there,” Smith said.
Central hopes to reverse a trend of losing recent road openers.
The Rockets suffered a lopsided loss at Grayson (Georgia) in 2012 and a heartbreaker at Camden County (Georgia) in 2010.
Conditions at game time Saturday could be very hot, even for a team from Miami that is used to the heat.
A recent tweet on the Hoover football Twitter page read: “The heat is on. Field temps a toasty 140 degrees. Welcome Miami Central.”