DEFENDING THE CROWN: Can Southridge repeat in 8A?

larry block7 DEFENDING THE CROWN: Can Southridge repeat in 8A?SFHSSports: Twitter | Facebook

During the spring, while college coaches are down watching and making offers, many athletes are trying to impress.

As the attention in the spring is more on the individual players, the team goals are put on the back burner – but never too far away that fans aren’t reminding them about what’s ahead for 2017.

When the 2016 season came to an end, there were four teams who returned to South Florida with titles. In Class 5A, it was Plantation American Heritage; the Carol City Chiefs took home the Class 6A crown; for the third straight year, St. Thomas Aquinas dominated Class 7A; and Miami Southridge ended nearly two decades without a trip to state finals with a Class 8A title.

In Florida is never easy to make it all the way – every year. Despite programs like St. Thomas, Miami Central and Booker T. Washington who seem to get to Orlando every year, it is rare to play for a state title these days.

For Southridge and veteran head coach Billy Rolle, the 2016 title was courtesy of building with the many players from home base, but also getting an infusion of elite, college-ready players.

While the Spartans didn’t dominate throughout the season – losing a few games along the way – when it came down to playoff time, the athletes and solid coaching came together.

While all the success of the past Southridge teams will always serve as a reminder to the younger athletes, the work still has to be done and the athletes need to respond.

For 2017, Southridge has a very talented group of players but they will have their own questions to answer. The linebacker corps has to be rebuilt, the defensive interior needs to be worked on as does the offensive line.

But in between, there is certainly enough talent and playmakers to push the needle in a district that has turned into perhaps the biggest 8A group in Florida.

What is happening this spring – as the Spartans get ready for the summer – is positions are being put up for grabs. Coach Rolle will not play games. He believes that his personnel is the best of the teams standing in the way for a return trip to the state championship game.

On offense, 2018 quarterback Michael Cox returns and brings with him two district titles and a state crown. His experience gives this program an advantage.

But he is not alone.

All-American receiver Mark Pope is at another level. And he is joined by other talented pass catchers like Daquris Wiggins (2018), Kamari Bruton (2018), Chamal Hunter (2018), Andre Foster (2018) and Jordan Dillard (2018) are elite as well.

The running game is steady as well with Columbus transfer Darren Davis, Jr. (2018) and standout 2019 Courtney Reese.

The O-line begins with University of Miami commit Delone Scaife (2018), but also includes Joshua Johnson (2019) and Johnathan Howe (2019).

“We learned so much from last year,” Cox explained. “While we have some holes to fill, there is a lot of talent on this team that will make a difference.”

On defense, it’s all about what happens up front with ends Randy Charlton (2018) and James Head, Jr. There is also Jizreel Jeudy (2018) and Andre Dennis (2018).

There are also linebackers such as Diamante Howard (2019), Gregory Franklin (2018), Jeffery Williams (2019), Kirk Williams (2019) and Nico Cortes (2018).

Even though the secondary really took a hit in graduation, there is still impress prospects such as Christopher McDonald, Jr. (2019), Joe Brown (2019), Herman Jackson (2018), Traquan Butler (2018), Leonard Wooten (2018) and Travis Lathan (2018).

NEXT WEEK: We take a look at the nationally-rated St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders.

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