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Columbus is ready to contend!

Had the chance to watch Jamaal Berry and Palmetto last Friday night against Columbus. Berry is more than the real deal. Palmetto just didn't use him enough. But the story on this night had to be the Explorers, who won 49-0, and looked very impressive.

After finishing 11-1 last season, losing to eventual state and national champion Northwestern, coach Chris Merritt has certainly assembled quite a football team.

While defensive tackle Antwan Lowery (6-3, 315) is the centerpiece of this defense, senior defensive end Caesar Rodriguez (6-2, 215) and sophomore defensive end Anthony Rabasa, a 6-3, 210-pounder are as productive as anyone I have watched in the spring and into the summer. They make plays – over and over again!

The thing that you have to love about the Explorer’s defense is that youngsters such as junior linebacker Tommy Heffernan (6-2, 200), senior Michael Abadin (6-1, 225) and sophomore Brandon Bradley (5-11, 170). Heffernan is a big time player with size, speed and plenty of athletic ability. I was fortunate to have watched Heffernan's dad, Dave, play for the University of Miami, and his son is going to be a real star.

The secondary is also quite impressive with senior safety Jamal Wildgoose (6-2, 170), Edgar Guerra (5-9, 160) and junior Bryan Santos, who at 5-9, 160, is a player who is not afraid to stick his head in on every play.

One of the brightest stars for the future is junior running back Jakhari Gore. This 5-9, 170-pounder is cousin of former Coral Gables, UM and 49ers star, Frank Gore, who is considered the best running back ever in Miami-Dade County.

Gore, who finished with a game-high 167 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown, helped balance an offense that was directed by quarterbacks Chris Ackemjack, a 5-9, 180-pound senior, and junior Garret Colao (5-11, 175), who completed nine passes combined for 100 yards.

Senior receivers Gary Bush (6-0, 175, Purdue), Kenny Whittaker (5-11, 175), who transferred in from Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna and senior Erik Lora (6-0, 175) are also impressive, and the offensive line that features seniors Andrew Guin (6-0, 245), Stephen Ortiz (6-1, 246), Thomas Maguire (6-0, 225), Stephen Nunez (6-2, 250) and Mark Westman (5-11, 250), and juniors Mark Cal (5-10, 260), Jacobo Gonzalez (6-2, 260), Alex Wethy (6-3, 245) and sophomore Brian Visney (6-1, 230). Westman's father, Mark, played at South Miami for veteran coach Charlie Yanda before heading to Oklahoma and competing for legendary head coach Barry Switzer.

I just scratched the surface with this team. Keep an eye out for Columbus. This could be the year that this program plays for a state title, and you would have to go back to the early 80s when Alonzo Highsmith, Mike Shula, Dwayne Ganzy and some others played for a state title against Pensacola Woodham, which I had the pleasure of broadcasting back to South Florida with the late, great Sonny Hirsch on a frigid night in the Panhandle!

LARRY BLUSTEIN
lblustein@miamiherald.com

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