There are a lot of new head coaches in this competitive, cross-county district. While one team in particular has and probably still will control this set, the rest of race is wide open.
American Heritage (Plantation) Patriots
2015 Record: 9-2 (District Champion)
Coach: Pat Surtain
2016 Outlook: American Heritage is still the king of this district.
The Patriots had its run of Class 5A state championships – winning in 2013 and 2014 – snapped this past season with a second round upset to district foe Hallandale.
As it has become one of South Florida’s elite programs, Heritage is considered a favorite to capture a third state title in four seasons.
If they do, it’ll be with a new head coach. Mike Rumph couldn’t resist the call of his college alma mater – the University of Miami – and is now its cornerbacks’ coach.
The administration elected to turn the program over to former Miami Dolphins great and Patriots defensive coordinator Pat Surtain.
Surtain’s team is in the proverbial “sweet spot” – having a good mix of returning seniors with championship experience, juniors ready to make an impact and handful of underclassmen hungry to gain experience.
Heritage’s secondary is one of the best in the country, featuring the sons of three former NFL players – Marco Wilson (son of Chad Wilson and brother of University of Florida cornerback Quincy Wilson), Will Allen III (son of former Dolphins defensive back Will Allen) and coach Surtain’s son Pat Jr.
With the secondary being a veritable “no fly zone”, defensive tackles Nesta Silvera and George Ellis will anchor the middle – freeing up linebackers James Houston and Andrew Chatfield to make plays sideline to sideline.
Heritage’s offense was dealt a big blow in losing running back Kyshaun Bryan to transfer (St. Thomas Aquinas), but dual-threat signal caller Jason Brown returns as do his bookend offensive linemen T.J. Slaton (6-foot-5, 330 pounds) and Kai-Leon Herbert (6-foot-5, 285 pounds).
Brown, a Harvard commit, is still under appreciated for what he brings to the offense. His arm is solid and because of his size (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) and deceptive speed, he’s like a third running back in the backfield.
Also, look for Plantation High transfer Jordan Johnson and 6-foot, 235-pound bruiser Abraham Alce to combine to fill the void in the backfield and University School transfer receiver Darnell Fleury (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) to give the Patriots another weapon on the outside.
Heritage’s schedule makers wanted to make sure that the squad was battle tested, too. Beginning with in the preseason with a showdown against four-time defending Class 4A state champion Miami Booker T. Washington, the Patriots will open the season with a road game in Georgia against Colquitt County followed by a visit from New Jersey’s Don Bosco Prep and a road game against a much-improved Miami Northwestern team.
Cardinal Gibbons Chiefs
2015 Record: 4-6
Coach: Matt Dubuc
2016 Outlook: Cardinal Gibbons too got a new head coach.
Like rival American Heritage, the Chiefs promoted from within.
Longtime offensive coordinator Matt DuBuc takes the reins of this program – his alma mater – from Mike Morrill, who stepped down in April.
DuBuc takes over a team that has talent but lost two big pieces to the puzzle in receiver Leroy Henley (transferred to Deerfield Beach) and defensive back Daniel Wright (transferred to Boyd Anderson).
Both of those players, a three-star and a four-star respectively, would’ve played major roles for Gibbons this season.
But the show must and always will go on.
The Chiefs do have good size along their offensive and defensive lines and they’ll now rely on cornerback Randall Haynie to be a defensive stalwart and receiver Tavontae Decius to emerge as a reliable playmaker for sophomore quarterback Nik Scalzo.
Coconut Creek Cougars
2015 Record: 6-4
Coach: Gerald Cox
2016 Outlook: Here’s another team that has a new leading man.
Kareem Reid led the team for three years and brought a renaissance of sorts to the program – “restoring the roar” despite never making the playoffs.
Enter former Miami Central assistant Gerald Cox.
It’s Cox’s first head coaching position, but he’s played an integral part in building the Rockets’ junior varsity team while also serving as the varsity defensive backs’ coach and an assistant athletic director.
The Cougars had one of the best offenses in Broward County in 2015 – able to trot out three All-Americans (Binjimen Victor, Malek Young and Trayvon Mullen) and the school’s all-time passing leader in Jhakari Harrison.
A new group of players will have to step up now. Namely, senior receivers Marquis Williams and Akai Rainford. Both were played more complimentary roles this past season, but now will be the go-to options for the Creek offense.
Also, the addition of 6-foot-3 junior cornerback Stanley Garner – who came over from Dillard – will help the Cougars defense overall while he looks to improve his individual stock as a prospect.
Coconut Creek is going to have to get consistent offensive line play if it wants to finally capture that elusive playoff spot, though.
2015 Record: 10-3 (District Runner-up)
Coach: Benedict Hyppolite
2016 Outlook: Hallandale enjoyed its best season in school history in 2015.
Making it to the region 4-5A final after knocking off district rival and then two-time Class 5A champion Plantation American Heritage spoke of the amount of talent that was on Hallandale’s roster in 2015.
But graduation hit the Chargers hard. The school’s all-time leading passer Tyler Huntley, receivers Neru N’Shaka, Josh Hammond, Chris Cotto and Demari Simpkins along with running back Zack Moss are all now making waves at the college level.
Also gone is former head coach Dameon Jones. Jones, who still works at the school, had overseen the Chargers during most of their successful football years. But he was pulled out of coaching retirement and filled the abrupt coaching vacancy at Chaminade-Madonna.
Now begins the Benedict Hyppolite era at Hallandale. Hyppolite, who served on Booker T. Washington’s coaching staff for multiple seasons as both wide receivers coach and most recently offensive coordinator for the Tornadoes’ 2015 state championship team, has been given the reins to his own program for the first time.
Hyppolite is a young, fiery and energetic coach that has been around a lot of winning and is eager to create his own winning culture.
On top of graduation, a handful of players elected to leave via transfer – but that doesn’t mean the Chargers’ cupboard is bare.
The Chargers got a gift in junior quarterback Legend Moore coming in from Hialeah American, as he will provide Hallandale with a dual-threat weapon under center. Also, receiver Shemar Thornton came in from Miami Carol City and has already shown himself to be the No. 1 target in the Chargers’ offense.
There are questions to be answered about Hallandale’s defense – having to replace a lot of senior playmakers.
2016 will be a growing year for Hyppolite and the Chargers.
2015 Record: 3-6
Coach: Lakatronia Brunson
2016 Outlook: Jackson made national news earlier this year when it hired Dade County’s first female head football coach in Lakatronia Brunson – replacing Earl Little. Brunson is the fifth woman to get hired as a high school football coach nationally in the past three years.
While Brunson is best known for her time as “Bernice” on the reality show “South Beach Tow”, she is a former college basketball player, a former women’s professional football player and a full-time teacher at Jackson.
The Generals also brought in Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell as its associate head coach and defensive coordinator. While it is a publicity-friendly move pairing Brunson with Campbell, the latter has established himself as one of the better defensive coaches in Miami-Dade County.
From his time as a linebackers’ coach at Miami Central to defensive coordinator stints at Miami Northwestern and Miami Norland – any defense that he’s had a hand in has been a staunch group.
That’s why it’s no surprise that the strength of the 2016 Jackson team will be its defense.
Middle linebacker Lacedrick Brunson (no relation to coach Brunson) is the unquestioned leader of the defense. His combination of size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and athleticism makes him one of the best overall defensive players in South Florida. Also, senior and North Carolina State commit Nakia Robinson (5-foot-11, 175 pounds) will be out to show that he should be considered one of the top pass defenders in the county.
The hidden gem is 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior defensive end Eric Mateo. He didn’t play during his junior year but could have a breakout season in 2016 – especially working in Campbell’s attacking defense.
Jackson’s offense is still a bit of a work in progress – but it would be much to its benefit if it handed the ball off to Keiron Broussard. Broussard, who transferred in from Georgia, is a 6-foot-1, 185-pounder with sub 4.5 speed and would be able to wear down teams with his downhill running style.
2015 Record: 3-7
Coach: Tally Adams
2016 Outlook: There may not have been a more active program during the offseason.
Second-year head coach Tally Adams had his squad at just about every event during the summer. A smart move by Adams, as having the team together not only developed chemistry and camaraderie but it also made sure that the Dragons wouldn’t lose players to other programs.
Stranahan should see things take another turn for the better in 2016.
Players like receiver Freddie Sears and two-way athlete (receiver/defensive back) Ginial Isma have proven themselves to be prospects that can make positive things happen.
The Dragons can surprise some people this season.
American Heritage is the clear-cut favorite to win this district.
The Patriots have definitely cemented their seat at the “big boys table” – being amongst South Florida’s elite programs on a yearly basis.
This is where things get tough.
A case can be made for almost every other team in the district to be the runner-up. So, in order to make the call, one would have to nitpick the teams.
While Cardinal Gibbons has good size on its offensive and defensive lines, it probably doesn’t have enough of those truly explosive playmakers that change the outcomes of games.
Coconut Creek has playmakers on the outside, but the same thing that plagued the Cougars even when they had three All-Americans on the roster – a lack of consistent offensive line play – is what will likely be their undoing.
Jackson’s defense has the potential to be one of the better units in South Florida. But the Generals are still looking for an offensive identity. Also, they lack overall depth – so any rash of injuries and things can way south.
Hallandale will compete each week, but they graduated a lot of talent. And while Stranahan is an improving team, the Dragons are probably still a year or two away.
The district runner-up will be decided by a bunch of intangible factors. The way the respective schedules play out, the weather during the games and the health of each team – to name a few.
Some might call it a cop-out, but I am predicting a tiebreaker for the district runner-up spot. When it happens, I’ll do two things: go play the lottery and then provide a fresh Bald Prediction.
Predicted Champion: American Heritage
Predicted Runner-Up: Tiebreaker
Because the race for the district runner-up spot is so wide open, I will hedge my bets and split this award amongst a number of players.
Hallandale quarterback Legend Moore proved during the spring that he’s going to have a large role in the Chargers’ offensive success. His ability to move the chains and make sound decisions from the pocket will be highly valuable to Hallandale’s playoff chances.
Same thing can be said about Cardinal Gibbons quarterback Nik Scalzo. He’s a youngster – entering his sophomore season – so his development as a signal caller will be tied to a lot of the Chiefs’ success.
If Jackson is to take the second playoff spot, it’ll be because of its defense. I think defensive end Eric Mateo is physically gifted enough to be one of Dade’s sack leaders in 2016. Him being a disruptive force up front will help the Generals defense as a whole and the team’s overall chances of winning.
American Heritage quarterback Jason Brown will join the 20-10 club – 20 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns.
Despite his true dual-threat abilities, Brown is still underrated by the masses.
Standing 6-foot- and weighing 205 pounds, Brown is a load to bring down when he runs the ball. He’s also a much better passer than most people give him credit for.
Harvard is getting a major steal in this kid.
Abraham Alce – American Heritage
Adam Fox – Cardinal Gibbons
Akai Rainford – Coconut Creek
Andrew Chatfield – American Heritage
Darnell Fleury – American Heritage
Dionte Henderson – Stranahan
Dontavius Butler – American Heritage
Edward German – Stranahan
Eric Mateo – Jackson
Freddie Sears – Stranahan
George Ellis – American Heritage
Ginial Isma – Stranahan
Hunter Astle – Cardinal Gibbons
James Bostic – Cardinal Gibbons
James Houston – American Heritage
Jason Brown – American Heritage
Jordan Johnson – American Heritage
Kai-Leon Herbert – American Heritage
Kalonji Hill – Hallandale
Keiron Broussard – Jackson
Lacedrick Brunson – Jackson
Legend Moore – Hallandale
Marco Wilson – American Heritage
Marquis Williams – Coconut Creek
Matthew Keaton – Stranahan
Miguel Edwards – Coconut Creek
Nakia Robinson – Jackson
Nesta Silvera – American Heritage
Nik Scalzo – Cardinal Gibbons
Pat Surtain II – American Heritage
Randall Haynie – Cardinal Gibbons
Robzel Slyvester – American Heritage
Shemar Thornton – Hallandale
Stanley Garner – Coconut Creek
Tavontae Decius – Cardinal Gibbons
Tedarrel “TJ” Slaton – American Heritage
Terrence Craig – Jackson
Tylique McGowan – Hallandale
Tyson Campbell – American Heritage
Uchenna Ezewike – Stranahan
Will Allen – American Heritage
Willie White – Hallandale