Is Miami Booker T. Washington capable of winning another national championship?
If the Tornadoes’ summer was any indication, the answer may be a resounding “yes.”
Booker T.’s mix of returning starters and new key players meshed to capture a national championship on the 7-on-7 football circuit over the summer, leaving new coach Tim Harris Jr. feeling good about his squad.
“It’s exciting for us, because we’re anxious to see our kids perform under the lights on the national stage,” said Harris Jr., who took over as head coach after his father, Tim “Ice” Harris, became an assistant coach at the University of Miami. “We see them every day in practice, and we know what they can do.”
Late Saturday night, the nation will get a chance to see the new-look Tornadoes when they begin their quest to repeat as the country’s best team by taking on nationally ranked Oscar Smith (Va.) in Norfolk at 9 p.m. in a game that will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU.
Booker T., a back-to-back state champion in Class 4A, opens the season on a 26-game winning streak and is ranked No. 9 nationally by MaxPreps. Oscar Smith, ranked No. 24 by MaxPreps, has won two state titles since 2008.
Last season, the Tornadoes opened the season with a 55-0 blowout win at Norcross (Ga.) and later scored wins against Las Vegas Bishop Gorman and Miami Central en route to the national crown.
“A year ago, Booker T. Washington was a much better team than Oscar Smith,” said MaxPreps national football editor Stephen Spiewak. “One year later, I think that gap has narrowed considerably, given what Oscar Smith returns and what Booker T. Washington lost. Still, Booker T. will have enough speed to cause some headaches for Oscar Smith. Oscar Smith has not done well in interstate games. It’s capable of beating Booker T., but I think it will need to bring its A-game.”
Booker T. has lost 11 starters, including several FBS recruits from last year’s squad.
But a core of returning starters on defense and an influx of transfers on offense coupled with one of the nation’s top junior running backs in Mark Walton should keep the Tornadoes formidable on both sides of the ball.
“We’re definitely confident, even though it’s a first look for a lot of our players,” Harris said. “We travel so much around the summer to keep our kids very close to us and focus on our team. It helps us build that teammate friendship atmosphere. Even for the guys that have been with us since January, they already look like they’ve been there for four years in our program.”
Senior quarterback Maurice Alexander (6-0, 175 pounds) and senior wide receiver Antonio Callaway (6-0, 180), transfers from Homestead, are two of the key factors that should make the Tornadoes’ passing game potent once again. The Tornadoes’ defense is just as strong led by its stout secondary that includes seniors Terry Jefferson, Davante Davis, Andre Duncombe and Ocie Rose and junior Dontye-Carriere Williams.
They will be tasked with slowing down Oscar Smith’s offense led by sophomore quarterback Shawn Mitchell and senior running back DeShawn McClease, a Virginia Tech commitment.
But Booker T.’s offensive line anchored by senior Ben Tirolia, who returned to Booker T. after playing his junior season at Jackson, will be challenged by 6-5, 235-pound senior defensive end Josh Sweat, the No. 5 overall prospect in the nation by Rivals.com.
Sweat has drawn comparisons to Houston Texans rookie Jadeveon Clowney for his power, speed and ability to get into opposing backfields so quickly.
“He presents a tremendous challenge,” Harris said. “I got the chance to see him at The Opening in Oregon a few months ago, and he ran a 4.46 in the [40-yard dash]. That says a lot for a guy his size. I was shocked and in disbelief. You try to prepare for him and put him in situations he’s not comfortable. We’ll be ready for the challenge.”