With a rise in teams choosing to play independent football statewide, only nine Miami-Dade County teams will be playing in districts this season from Classes 5A-2A.
Among those few, however, resides a potential repeat national champion, a pair of state championship contenders as well as a couple more teams that should have playoff success.
Booker T. Washington graduated several key players from last year’s national title team. But as it showed in its season-opening rout of Oscar Smith (Virginia), the Tornadoes still have one of the most talented rosters nationwide and are the clear favorite to win a third consecutive Class 4A title.
If it accomplishes the feat, Booker T. would become the first Dade team to win three consecutive state titles.
Champagnat Catholic, the only other Dade team to complete an undefeated season in 2013, has also reloaded and could become the county’s first private school to win back-to-back state titles. The Lions are the overwhelming favorite in Class 2A.
Westminster Christian faces a tough road in Class 3A, but its core of playmakers, led by Tim Irvin and Jordan Cronkrite, should be right in the mix again this December with that classification’s best.
Among the county’s independents in conferences such as the Southeastern Football Conference, look for La Salle to be one of the more improved teams. And watch out for Keys Gate Charter to continue to impress coming off a 9-1 season.
1. Booker T. Washington: The defending national champions have new faces in key places that look ready for another great season. The 57-21 season-opening win over Oscar Smith wasn’t perfect by Booker T. standards, but given time this group should gel and make county history in Class 4A.
2. Gulliver: Likely the best squad the Raiders have had since going to state in 2008. There’s skill-position talent galore, with juniors Dionte Mullins and Cedric Wright leading the way. The Raiders are a likely second-round playoff team where they would run into Booker T. Washington.
3. Champagnat Catholic: No one looks capable of stopping them in Class 2A, except maybe Lakeland Victory Christian if it gets a rematch of last year’s state final. Along the way, it will be interesting to see how this talented Lions squad fares against opponents like Jacksonville Trinity Christian, Westminster Christian and IMG Academy as it tries to keep its 14-game winning streak alive.
4. Westminster Christian: The Warriors are determined to make it to Orlando a year after a heartbreaking 7-0 loss to Clearwater Central Catholic in the state semifinals. The Warriors are good enough to get the job done, but can they contend with the likes of Trinity Christian for a state title?
5. Jackson: A disappointing 5-5 season last year led to a coaching change for the Generals. Now, a new staff including former NFL standout Earl Little will try to lead Jackson back to the playoffs.
6. Edison: The playoffs are likely still out of reach, but after a couple of dismal seasons, look for the Red Raiders to take a step back toward respectability.
7. Monsignor Pace: The Spartans just don’t have the talent of years past, and the tough schedule won’t do them any favors.
8. Keys Gate: This relatively new program is getting better with each year. It’s still independent, but look for its experienced roster to deliver a large amount of wins.
9. Dade Christian: In tiny District 8-2A, the Crusaders are still good enough to make the playoffs once again.
10. La Salle: The Royal Lions should be good enough to make it back to the SFC playoffs and possibly make a push.
11. Doral Academy: Former Archbishop Carroll coach Jorge Zagales is back in town and hopes to turn the Firebirds into winners.
12. Archbishop Curley: The Knights are looking to be more consistent following a 4-6 season.
13. Florida Christian: The Patriots should be one of the better rushing teams in the Southern Division of the SFC.
14. Archbishop Carroll: The Bulldogs hired rookie coach Eddie Alford and appear to be working toward revitalizing their once-strong program.
15. Ransom Everglades: With 16 starters back, the Raiders should finish better than last year’s 3-7 record.
16. Miami Country Day: Former Miami Dolphin Sean Hill was hired as coach and takes over a team that had to forfeit four games last season because of a lack of players.
17. Palmer Trinity: The Falcons joined the Florida Independent Football Conference.
18. Everglades Prep: Several Homestead area Pop Warner stars make up the roughly 30-man roster of this first-year program.
19. Scheck Hillel: The Hurricanes are also in Palmer’s conference and are hoping for a winning season.
20. Pinecrest Prep: One of four new schools starting football programs this season.
21. Somerset Homestead: This branch of Somerset Academy opens football.
22. Miami Community Charter: The Lions will try to make a name for themselves in Year 1.