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