Everybody might be expecting a defensive battle when Miami Central visits Hoover (Ala.) Saturday at noon in a battle of high school football titans.
But Rockets coach Roland Smith said Thursday at practice his team could have quite a few surprises on offense for ESPN's national TV audience.
"I think our offense is going to show up and surprise a lot of people," said Smith, who has nine starters back on defense from last year's 13-1 Class 6A state champions, but only four back on offense. "We've got three running backs nobody ever heard of because of the guys we had last year. But believe me these guys are good."
Those guys last year were Mr. Florida Football Dalvin Cook (Florida State) and tag team partner Joseph Yearby (Miami).
Yearby finished his career with 5,593 yards and 68 touchdowns, second-most behind only Bobby Washington in Miami-Dade history. Cook, who had 322 fewer carries than Yearby (721), finished with 4,267 yards and 64 touchdowns. Together, they were the most prolific rushing duo ever in Dade, and quite possibly the state, too.
The new guys are seniors Cedric Miller, Clifford Cooper and Malik Witherspoon.
"We told them it's a system," Smith said. "If they stick to the plan and run our system they're going to have the same success those guys had."
Hoover has won eight national titles since 2000 including the last two state titles in Class 6A and 30 games in a row. Seven offensive starters are back including highly touted four-star tailback Bradrick Shaw (6-1, 193) and 6-4, 220-pound receiver Justin Johnson (Mississippi State). Defensively, Auburn-bound linebacker Darrell Williams (6-2, 225) and Alabama-bound defensive end Christian Bell (6-3, 216) lead the charge.
Hoover has won six games in a row against out-of-state opponents. The last time Central went to Alabama they won 49-28 over Pratville in 2010.
The Rockets also have some star power themselves. Four-star receiver Da'Vante Phillips (6-2, 204) has every school in the country recruiting him. Defensively, Florida State-bound safety Calvin Brewton leads the charge.
Receiver Anthony Jones, Cook's nephew, and junior quarterback Gerard Thomas are two other players to watch, Smith said.
"If you want to be good or you want to be great you've got to play the best teams out there," Smith said. "When we took over this program, [Telly] Lockett did a good job of doing that. Same thing with my other school, Northwestern. In order to be the best you have to play the best. We feel like we're one of the best teams in the nation.
"We're not fortunate enough to have teams come down here to play us so we have to go to their venue and also play with their refs, guys who could be graduates of their school. We just want to play football. The thing I always tell the referee is let our kids play. Let's let the kids decide the game not the referees."
-- MANNY NAVARRO
By Larry Blustein
Nobody has to tell Daryle Heidelberg about building a football program. He knows exactly how to do it - and plans on getting it done again.
After finishing second and then winning a state title a few years back at his alma mater, Norland, Heidelberg and his Vikings sundered through a few lean years. Last year, he moved into a district that included nationally-rated Miami Central, Carol City, Northwestern and Homestead. While his team failed to grab a playoff spot, there was a move in bringing this program back in the spotlight.
Off season additions - including veteran Defensive Coordinator Luther Campbell - has put this program back in the spotlight, and while many of the experts are still not picking this team to be one of the two that qualify for the playoffs in 6A, Heidelberg likes that roll just fine.
"In the past I think our teams have done better when we are doubted - not counted on the be the team to beat," he explained. "I think people will be very surprised at the kind of talent we have on this team."
While everyone fully understands that Duke Johnson, Erick Flowers and Bam Brown aren't going to walk through the front doors of the school and immediately infuse this program, but for those who know what kind of athletes are available to program each year, know that talent is not going to be a problem.
The senior class will showcase a quality defense. One that features Ohio State defensive back commit Carlton Davis (6-2, 180), who leads a very talented secondary that also includes D’andre Smart (5-11, 175), Elliot Miller (5-10, 165), Cameron Cooper (5-10, 160) and Kevin Hollis (5-9, 170).
"We knew going into the season that our secondary would be very strong," said Davis. "I am very excited to work with Coach Campbell and real impressive group of defensive players."
The Vikings are also very strong up front on defense with end Rayshad Jackson (6-1, 190), and interior players Anthony Hall (6-0, 270), Jahim Lawrence (6-0, 205) and Dwayne Spencer (6-4, 290).
Offensively, the senior class boasts linemen William Gordon (6-4, 300), Jabari Barnwell (6-0, 320) and and Lowell Richardson, a 6-4, 275-pounder. In addition, talented and versatile receiver Steven McIntosh (6-0, 175) and Clarence Walker (5-6, 160), and running back Ruben Bresier (5-9, 175).
"We are happy about the seniors we have on this team," Heidelberg said. "They are going to be very productive and really lead our younger players as well."
The future of this program will indeed be with the gifted underclass. The Vikings do have a quality group of 2016 prospects - led by Rodrick Robinson (6-2, 175), running backs Chavis Wright (5-7, 170) and Tyson Dorvillier (5-7, 170), receivers Damian Barry (5-11, 180), Jordan Robinson (6-2, 175) and Terrell Scott (5-11, 170).
The Vikings also feature a number of impact linemen as well. Prospects such as Henry Pierre (6-1, 240), Deundre Gatlin (5-11, 240), Joshua Greene (6-3, 255) and even Class of 2017 prospect Kadeem Telfort, a 6-6, 310-pounder.
The Class of 2016 will also be a place where defensive standouts will make major strides this year. Linemen Eric Mitchell (6-2, 230) and Reoshard Donald (6-2, 190), linebackers Keon Holder (5-10, 185), Emmett Rice (6-3, 190), Edlet Satil (6-0, 220), versatile Vosean Joseph (6-1, 190) and Dejardins Paul (5-10, 185).
As the season begins, Norland may be the team on the outside looking in, but with a tremendous amount of talent and a coaching staff that knows how to teach and win, anything can happen - and the Vikings are banking on it.
We are always looking to help promote our area recruits for the current Class of 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. All you have to do is send a You Tube or Hudl link and information about the athlete to: Larry Blustein at Floridakids1@aol.com.
Follow Larry on Twitter at twitter.com/larryblustein.
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