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St. Thomas simply reloads, once again

Just when you thought it was safe to assume that it would be a tough task to ask the St. Thomas Aquinas football to repeat its 5A state championship run from 2007, spring practice rolled around. There aren’t many asking that question - today!

After nearly a month of sorting out who stayed and which players graduated, coach George Smith and the Raiders slowly filled holes on both sides of the ball.

Closing the book on the spring with annual Blue vs. Gold scrimmage game in front of college coaches, media and recruiting services on Thursday (May 22) at the beautiful, homey confines.

Class of 2009 returnees are led by quarterback Ryan Becker (6-0, 175), and also include running back Beau Bucci (5-9, 170), gifted receivers Duron Carter (6-2, 170) and Dwayne Difton (6-1, 180), and promising tight end prospect Gabe Holmes (6-5, 220). There are also impressive linemen such as Ryan Mousley (6-3, 270), Kevin O’Connell (6-3, 250), highly-regarded transfer Thomas Pizzurro (6-3, 280) and converted tight end, Dylan Drake (6-2, 200).

On the defensive side, the class is impressive as well with lineman Jean Luc Charles (5-11, 230) and William Nesselt (6-3, 240). There is also linebacker Conor O’Neill (6-1, 190), who was an All-Herald Broward County first team football and baseball, and emerging safety prospect Dezman Southward (6-1, 200).

The Raiders may have one of the nation’s elite punters in Benjamin Turk, a Tim Conrad-trained athlete, who has a chance to average in the high 40s this season.

While the senior class has leadership and talent, the underclassmen at St. Thomas are what make this program one to be in the mix for at least the next two years - and beyond!

The Class of 2010 starts on offense with major college running back prospect Giovanni Bernard (5-9, 195) and James White (5-11, 180), and promising speedster Ethan Grant (5-9, 170). Moving to the line, it’s apparent that this is where it will continue to be successful with gifted prospects Brandon Linder (6-4, 280) and Jermaine Barton, a 6-7, 320-pounder.

On defense, linebacker Vinnie Mauro (6-1, 195), cornerbacks Abayomi Ayoola (5-9, 175), Vladimir Rock (5-8, 160) and Cody Riggs (5-10, 170), who is the son of former NFL standout Gerald Riggs, and safeties Brian Robinson (6-0, 180) and physical Reynaldo Kirton (6-1, 180) showcase enormous athletic ability.

The Raiders are also equipped in the Class of 2011 with impressive defensive lineman Kenny Hankerson (5-11, 200), and quarterbacks Jacob Rudock (5-10, 160) and promising varsity newcomer Brent Armitage. Hankerson is a converted running back.

Another Conrad-coached special, kicker Michael Palardy, is one of the best, young specialists in the country - already!

Could it be Lakeland-St. Thomas 4? The Raiders appear to be headed back to the state finals - yet again.

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