ORLANDO – For the second straight week, the Miami Herald, elitescoutingservices.com and floridafb.com had the opportunity to check out all the state championship games at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
With a number of our recruiting analysts on hand, watching games from every angle, we once again broke down every game, play and team to come up with a number of quality athletes who were among the best at the two-day event.
We also had the opportunity to witness one of the best 6A title games since the start of that classification, when Sanford Seminole High School, came from 21 points down, to upset Miami Northwestern, who had won the past two state titles and posted an amazing 43-2 record over the past three years.
We also had the pleasure of watching at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas team that could be regarded as one of the best in Florida history, as the Raiders rolled over previously unbeaten Lakeland to win the 5A crown – and perhaps a national crown!
Last week, we were flooded with e-mails, thanking us for giving this rundown on the games. A special thanks to Charles Fishbein, Larry Blustein, Corey Long and Geof Vogt for adding to this breakdown.
1. Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas
2. Tampa Plant
3. Sanford Seminole
4. Miami Northwestern
7. Tallahassee Lincoln
8. Tallahassee Godby
QB – Aaron Murray, Tampa Plant, Sr. (Committed to Georgia): The future Bulldog showed us a ton of heart as he played a great game after injuring his leg earlier this year. Most felt Murray would not play again, but he truly surprised everyone by returning against Dwyer and then . He surprised leading the Panthers to their second state title in three years, finishing 18-30 for 344 yards-3tds and no interceptions.
QB – Ryan Becker, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, SR: The Raiders' quarterback has now led his team to back-to-back state titles and the school's first ever national championship, which is the fourth straight for the state of Florida. Headed toward an Ivy League school, Becker manages the game as well as any quarterback has in a long time at the high school level. He finished 8-11 for 100 yards and 3 touchdowns.
RB – Gio Bernard, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas. Jr: Has been on the radar screen for the past two full seasons, The brother of former Oregon State standout, Yvenson Bernard, this quality back established himself as one of the nation's elite runners, making big play after big play and finishing up the state title game with 8 carries for 104 yards!
RB – James White, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, Jr: While Bernard gets much of the publicity, this is another BCS-type of back with speed, power and the athleticism to break off huge runs. His ability to catch balls out of the backfield also makes him one of the top prospects to watch for over the year. White broke the game open with a long touchdown run in the first quarter.
WR – Willie Downs, Tallahassee Godby, Sr. – (Committed to Florida State): When the 2008 season began, here is the player who many felt was the No. 1 prospect in the state. While much has not changed, Downs did get the chance to show those who had never watched him perform live just what he can do on the field. If the Godby coaches could go back in time they would have thrown Downs the ball a lot more in this game. He made the go ahead touchdown grab in overtime. He was constantly open all game long. Downs is a big play guy and we don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
WR – Andre Debose, Sanford Seminole, Sr.: He only had two catches for 51 yards, but his final catch will go down as one of the best ever in a state title game. He caught the game winning touchdown with less then a minute to go. Debose also chipped in with 76 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He is one of the top overall players in Florida for the class of 2009. 184 All-Purpose yards goes down as one of the best performances in a state finals game.
TE – Orson Charles, Tampa Plant, Sr.: After coming over to Plant from Riverview (Tampa) after his junior season, here is an athlete we had the chance to evaluate and watch 15 times during the summer. After a tremendous year, Charles turned it on in the finals as he finished with 132 yards and 2 touchdowns on offense. On defense, where many college coaches are predicted he ends up playing, he chipped in with 3 tackles, 1 sack and a tackle for loss.
TE – Gabe Holmes, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr. – (Committed to Purdue): Having watched this quality football talent since the end of his sophomore year, we have closely evaluated a player that many college coaches believe could be the best overall tight end prospect in this class. Holmes made his presence felt on the first set of downs for Saint Thomas on offense. He ran a seam route, which Lakeland never saw coming. Less then a minute in the game of the 5A title game, the Raiders were up 7-0 and never looked back!
OL – Brandon Linder, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, Jr.: Yet another player our staff has been watching since his 10th grade year, there is little doubt that this is best overall lineman in the state – in any class. His strength, quick feet, knowledge and ability to control the line has put him in a class by himself. Will be one of the nation's best in 2009!
OL – Benjamin Young, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.: At 6-7, 225-pounds, no lineman has worked harder to put himself in a role of a starter for the best high school football team in the country. His hard work and dedication to the sport showed down the stretch. He happens to have a pretty good role model. His brother, Sam, a one-time St. Thomas standout, is a three year starter at Notre Dame.
OL – Josh Woods, Cocoa, Jr.: Yet another player we watched perform this past weekend, and by the time his team had won the 3A title, he showcased some abilities that will be on display next year as well. He is already on our state of Florida watch list for 2010.
OL – Andre Mondor, Tampa Plant, Jr.: After watching this impressive football player perform last summer, we followed him all the way to the state title game, where he did not disappoint. He gave Murray all day to throw and helped give them a decent running game as well.
OL – Donald Senat, Miami Northwestern, Jr.: While highly-regarded junior Torian Wilson had his hands full, this was the player that coaches were truly impressed with the most. Great hand control, quickness and explosion at the line of scrimmage. He did help to open holes early and provide pass blocking for super sophomore Teddy Bridgewater.
ATHLETE – Ray Ray Armstrong, Sanford Seminole, Sr.: Make no mistake, any way you viewed this talented football player, here is a kid that believes in his talents, which he has many. He made his presence felt on both sides of the football. There is no secret that Armstrong's stock soared after the state title game.
ATHLETE – Wayne Times, Miami Northwestern, Sr.: If Bull fans want to be honest, they would go back to the start of the playoffs and understand that this is the player who made it possible for them to reach their impressive third consecutive 6A state championship appearnace. This one-time quarterback prospect has played 5 different positions for a Bulls team that went 43-2 over the past three seasons.
PK – Michael Palardy, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, Jr.: Yet another Tim Conrad-trained kicker who has already been viewed by many as the No. 1 kicking prospect in the country for the Class of 2010. Tremendous accuracy and leg strength that provided 7 touchbacks in the state finals.
Michael Lee Harris, WR, Miami Northwestern, Jr.: Fans have watched him all season, and from the first series in the state championship game, when he put the Bulls up 7-0, those who watched him play were totally bowled over by his speed and ability to catch the ball. He will be another elite prospect for the impressive Class of 2010.
Steward Butler, RB, Lakeland, Jr.: Another quality football player the Dreadnaughts will roll out for the future. A hard running back who finished with 12 rushes for 84 yards and a touchdown.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Miami Northwestern, So.: What else can be said about this future star that hasn't already been said? Throwing, running and leading, there may not be a talent in the nation like this by the time he reaches his senior season. Also a quality baseball prospect as well with a tremendous throwing arm, great power and speed.
DL – Jericho Lee, Tallahassee Godby, So.: If you had the chance to watch the 3A state finals, you saw some great defense, and at the center of that defense was this quality football talent who finished with 7 tackles and 2 for loss. If Lee is to become a major college prospect, he will need to grow, but the playmaking ability is already in place at the age of 16!
DL – Charles Thacker, Sanford Seminole, Sr.: At 6-4, 210, here is yet another player who stepped up for the Seminoles in the title game. After a rocky first quarter, here was one of the unsung heroes on a line that dictated play in the second half against the defending national champion Bulls. He was impressive!
DL – Dyron Dye, Sanford Seminole, Sr.: Here is a player who roamed the field, funneling plays into the middle for the linebackers and defensive secondary to come up and finish off. While his stats were not eye-catching, his overall play and ability to read plays was something that kept the Bulls out of the endzone for three quarters. He finished with a couple of tackles, a sack and tackle for loss. It seemed like he was in the backfield of Northwestern more then their running backs.
DL – Dalshawde Myers, Cocoa, Jr.: On a team oaded with underclassmen, here was one that caught the eye of everyone during this overtime win against Godby. He finished the state title game with 4 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He was in the backfield all game!
LB – Rodney Busch, Tallahassee Godby, Jr.: In a weekend that showcased so many top underclassmen, here was yet another who was a true playmaker, coming up with an impressive 11 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 tackles for loss. He was easily the MVP for the Cougars, which is great news since he is coming back.
LB – Beau Hume, Tampa Plant, Sr.: On a team that has more than its share of quality football talent for the future, here is a player who came to the 4A state title game with winning on his mind. His -8 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, 1 interception and a forced fumble was good enough for MVP honors on a defense that swarmed Tallahassee Lincoln all day.
LB – John Bagilia, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, Jr.: can you say repeat? If this is the kind of football talent the Raiders have coming back for 2009, you better make room in the trophy case for yet another piece of hardware. How about 7 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss and a pass break up? Not a bad night at all!
LB – Conor O’Neill, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr. – (Committed to Wisconsin): From the first snap until the game ended, this was a player who never let up, making play after play – much like he has since his junior season. O'Neill seems to turn it on in the big games, and with 11 tackles, an interception return for a touchdown and a fumble recovery, he ended his high school career in grand fashion.
DB – E.J. Johnson, Cocoa, Jr.: The very first star of the second weekend of the state playoffs, here was the athlete who was in the right spot at the right time – coming up with three interceptions and helping the Tigers win their first ever state title. Johnson put his name on the map in recruiting circles as colleges are now watching.
DB – Jawanza Starling, Tallahassee Lincoln, Sr.: Having been on the radar screen for three years now, here is an athlete who is not hard to spot or appreciate. Starling finished with 4 catches for 71 yards and touchdown. He also chipped in with 7 tackles on defense.
DB – Cody Riggs, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, Jr.: Many who follow recruiting believe that this could be one of the top cover-rcorners in the nation next year. Speed, quickness and the ability to read plays makes him one of the top junior prospects around. Nobody had success on him during the season or in the playoffs!
PUNTER – A.J. Graham, Tallahassee Godby, Sr.: Coming into the state title game, many wanted to see him throw the ball from his quarterback position, where he set many recoirds for the Cougars. Instead, he was tremendous as a punter, averaging 49.0 yards and a long of 65 yards. He turned the field in Godby favor many times this past weekend.
Vincent Mauro, LB, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, Jr: Another one of those under the radar type of players who will emerge as one of the top linebackers in Florida in 2009. He is big, strong and very physical. He is certainly a point of attack kind of tackler and continues to get better!
Thomas Harp, DL, Tallahassee Lincoln, Sr.: A very active player who reads plays very well and has the physical and athletic ability to dictate the outcome of many plays. In the title game, he had 3 tackles and 2 tackles for loss.
Dylan Drake, DL, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.: One of those kind of players who steps up in big games, and after a tremendous season, he did what was needed in the playoffs. In the state title game, he had 2 tackles, 1 sack and a tackle for loss.
Justin Jones, LB, Tallahassee Godby, Sr.: The impressive Cougar defense, which yielded just 7 points, used this impressive athlete to make a major contribution with 9 tackles, 3 which went for a loss. Jones was around the ball all game long.
Mike Mirabella, LB, Tampa Plant, Jr.: Although a smaller linebacker prospect, this Class of 2010 performer was in the middle of the action all day long. Finished with 3 tackles, 1 sack and 3 tackles for loss.
Jermaine Reve, SS, Miami Northwestern, So.: Think the Bulls are going away after this game? Not with Class of 2011 players like this who stepped up in the biggest game of his young life against Sanford Seminole. He finished with 6 tackles and 2 tackles for loss.
Tevin McCaskill, S, Miami Northwestern, Sr.: There is no getting around the fact that this has not been the best year for this talented athlete. Even in the state game, he had some problems with coverage, but did manage to come up with 12 tackles.
Todd Chandler, NT, Miami Northwestern, Jr. – (Committed to Miami): Injured much of the season, his play in the first half of the state title game was impressive. A very passionate player who will have a lot of pressure to step it up for his senior year. Because he is not in good shape because of his injury, he wore down in the second half.