Seffner Armwood football coach Sean Callahan did a double take this week when he began watching game film of Miami Central.
“My coaches and I sat down and all looked at each other and said, ‘Who is this, the ghost of Dalvin Cook?” Callahan said.
The Central running back slicing through defenses these days while wearing the No.4 jersey is no specter.
Senior Anthony Jones, an FIU commitment, has done some very real damage to Central opponents this season much like Cook, now a freshman at Florida State, did during his stellar prep career.
Cook led Miami-Dade County in scoring his final two high school seasons at Central with a combined 60 touchdowns — four of which came against Armwood in last season’s Class 6A final.
So what does the cousin of last year’s Mr. Florida football, Jones, have in store when the Rockets play Armwood on 1 p.m. Saturday in this year’s Class 6A state championship game at the Citrus Bowl?
“It’s obvious [Jones] has waited his turn, and now he’s ready,” Callahan said. “We saw Dalvin as a sophomore, and as a senior and he’s not too far behind. This is a kid we have to make sure we tackle well or he can beat you.”
Jones is a big reason that Central (13-1), ranked No.6 by USA Today, is making a Miami-Dade record fifth consecutive appearance in the state finals. With a win Saturday, the Rockets can join Miami Booker T. Washington, which won this year’s Class 4A championship, as the only county teams to win three consecutive state titles.
Jones (6-0, 185 pounds) has totaled 1,218 all-purpose yards and 24 touchdowns as a running back and wide receiver this season. Jones has scored 11 of his touchdowns (10 rushing) in the playoffs and has scored at least three times in three of the Rockets’ four postseason wins.
“I’ve been with Dalvin all my life, and he taught me to always give it all I got,” Jones said. “It starts in the weight room and on the sleds and in practice. He always went hard, and he taught me to do the same.”
Jones’ 20 touchdowns and 808 rushing yards, along with senior running back Cedric Miller rushing for a county-best 1,625 yards on 214 carries and nine touchdowns, have given the Rockets the 1-2 punch many thought they would lack after graduating Cook and current University of Miami freshman Joe Yearby.
Armwood yielded 223 yards last season against Central without facing Yearby, who had sustained a season-ending ankle injury two weeks earlier.
The backfield duo Central will send against Armwood has thrived behind an offensive line that also reloaded after not returning one starter from last year’s championship team.
Senior left tackle Jason Jean (6-3, 295), senior left guard Tavaris Bruton (6-2, 320), senior center Robzel Sylvester (6-3, 350), sophomore right guard Mershawn Miller (6-1, 290) and sophomore right tackle Navaughn Donaldson (6-5, 340) have paved the way for Central to rush for 2,970 yards as a team and gain 4,721 yards overall.
“My offensive line coaches have done a great job preparing these guys,” Central coach Roland Smith said. “What helped those guys get better was going against our defensive line. They got whooped every day and got battle-tested since the start of the season.”
Smith said this week he expects Armwood (14-0) to present a much greater challenge than his team faced during its 52-7 rout in last year’s final.
Armwood is playing in the state final for seventh time in 11 years, has posted nine shutouts this season and allowed 52 points overall.
The Hawks, led by 6-4, 275-pound senior defensive end Byron Cowart, rated the No.3 overall prospect in the nation by Rivals.com, have allowed only 131 yards rushing all season and forced 35 turnovers.
But strength of schedule has come into question as Armwood’s opponents had a combined record of 77-76, and none of its regular-season wins came against teams that won a playoff game. Only two opponents reached the postseason.
“I expect it to be a more competitive game,” Smith said. “They have something to prove. We have to come out and play our ‘A-game’ to make sure we do what we know we can do.”
If you go
What: The 52nd annual state football championships.
Where: The Citrus Bowl, 1 Citrus Bowl Place, Orlando.
Friday’s schedule: Class 5A: Plantation American Heritage vs. Tallahassee Godby, 1:07; Class 7A: Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas vs. Kissimmee Osceola, 7:07.
Saturday’s schedule: Class 6A: Miami Central vs. Seffner Armwood, 1:07; Class 8A: Miami Columbus vs. Apopka, 7:07.
Class 6A final — Central (13-1) vs. Armwood (14-0)
Coaches: CEN: Roland Smith (2nd year at CEN, 8th overall, 96-12); ARM: Sean Callahan (24th year, 244-77).
State experience: CEN: 3-1 (won state titles in 2010, 2012, 2013); ARM: 4-1 (State titles in 1976, 1986, 1987, 2012).
Road to state: CEN: d. Boynton Beach 49-6; Hallandale 35-19; Palm Bay Heritage 20-12; Daytona Beach Mainland 31-21; ARM: d. Largo 38-0, Venice 42-14, Gainesville 56-0, Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee 19-15.
Offensive probable starters: CEN: LE Anthony Jones (6-0, 185, Sr.); LT Jason Jean (6-3, 295, Sr.); LG Tavaris Bruton (6-2, 320, Sr.); C Robzel Sylvester (6-3, 350, Sr.); RG Mershawn Miller (6-1, 290, So.); RT Navaughn Donaldson (6-5, 340, So.); RE Jamari Hester (6-5, 210, Sr.); QB Jerrod Thomas (6-0, 175, Jr.); HB Cedric Miller (6-0, 190, Sr.); FB Lenwood Joyner (5-8, 165, Sr.); FL Da’Vante Phillips (6-1, 189, Sr.); K Beymar Piraquive (5-10, 175, Sr.); ARM: WR Cordell Pimienta (6-1, 170, Jr.); LT Evan Montreuil (6-2, 272, Jr.); LG Willie Edom (6-0, 275, Sr.); C Mike Brown (6-3, 360, Jr.); RG Jacquez Little (6-0, 267, So.); RT Kevin Richardson (6-3, 300, Jr.); SL Darrian McNeal (5-10, 175, So.); QB Noah Johnson (5-11, 180, Sr.); HB Caylan Holloway (5-9, 180, Sr.); FB Erin Collins (6-1, 185, So.); WR Dennis Harris (6-0, 180, So.).
Defensive probable starters: CEN: LE Marquis Couch (6-0, 225, Sr.); LT Keir Thomas (6-2, 220, Jr.); RT Fermin Silva (6-2, 225, Sr.); RE Keivonnis Davis (6-2, 215, Sr.); LB Waynmon Steed (6-0, 205, So.); LB Donovan Thompson (6-0, 215, Jr.); LB Christopher Williams (5-10, 170, So.); DB Calvin Brewton (5-10, 175, Sr.); DB Adam Mattison (5-11, 180, Sr.); DB Olin Cushion III (5-9, 170, Sr.); S Jamel Cook (6-3, 180, Jr.); P Jauvanie Francis (6-2, 205, Sr.); ARM: LE Byron Cowart (6-4, 275, Sr.); NT Jermey Ware (6-1, 263, Jr.); RE Quinton Singletary (5-10, 205, Sr.); OLB Kyheem Campbell (5-11, 176, Jr.); MLB Jordan Griffin (6-1, 205, Sr.); SLB Justin Manning (6-0, 215, Jr.); OLB Curtis Woodard (5-11, 192, Sr.); CB Kaylon Edwards (5-11, 180, Sr.); CB Aaron Covington (5-11, 174, Sr.); SS Dedarallo Blue (5-11, 175, Jr.); FS Tyler Scott (5-10, 170, Jr.).