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Miami-Dade’s southern-most district. This group has some deeply ingrained rivalries that make for some of the best games and atmospheres. But things have been turned up a notch now that one team in particular has state title aspirations.

Homestead Broncos

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2015 Record: 2-8
Coach: Ahmad Ward
2016 Outlook: Homestead is another one of those unlucky programs in that they sit in an area with oodles of talented football players but only get a small percentage of those players to stay or even come to the school at all.

If Homestead kept half of the kids that would be set to become Broncos, they’d legitimately be a perennial playoff team that could even have state title aspirations in certain years.

But for all the kids that Homestead loses – or never gets – they still put together a team that is athletic and refuses to be a walkover.

New head Ahmad Ward takes over the program from Larry Coffey. Ward, who’s coached at Homestead before as an assistant and an interim head coach, knows the area well and could be the right person that is able to attract more kids to become and stay Broncos.

Ward will be relying on senior Gary LaCount to become a leader in 2016. LaCount served as Homestead’s starting quarterback in 2015, but the new coaching staff has decided to move him to receiver – where he could use his 6-foot-2 frame to win matchups against defensive backs.

The player that could end up being a diamond in the rough is senior safety Damien Lindor. He has the size (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) you want in a defensive back prospect and he’s not afraid to come down into the box and make a tackle. Lindor must be more consistent in his coverage and show that he can be a leader in the back of the Homestead’s defense.

Killian Cougars

2015 Record: 5-4
Coach: Javi Valdes
2016 Outlook: Killian decided to make a change in its leadership at the end of this past season, choosing not to retain Cory Johnson as head coach.

More often than not, moving on from a coach that’s been with the program for an extended amount of time means that a massive rebuild is on the horizon.

That won’t be the case with Killian.

The Cougars did themselves a big favor, bringing in former Coral Reef head coach Javi Valdes to take the reins of the program. Valdes, who also coached at Mater Academy and led it to its first playoff berth in school history, is a well-respected coach on the rise and he knows how to elevate a program.

They did lose a handful of players that would’ve played large roles on the team in 2016 to transfer – defensive end Deandre Johnson, running back Ben Thompson and receiver Daquris Wiggins all went to district rival Southridge – but there’s still plenty left in the cupboard.

The Cougars’ offensive line is set to be one of the better units in Miami-Dade County, with seniors Brian Baker (6-foot-7, 300 pounds) and Tyler Tacornal (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) setting up as bookend tackles and University of Miami commit and junior Delone Scaife (6-foot-3, 280 pounds) anchoring in the interior.

Running back Willie Houseal came over from Homestead and will team up senior Delano Morgan to create a more than formidable backfield tandem.

Defensively, Killian must put a lot of its new pieces together. The Cougars have prided themselves on their defensive prowess in recent years – so it’ll be up to senior linebackers Romelo Brooks and Theodore Williams to be playmakers and “glue guys” for a unit that should still be quite stingy.

Palmetto Panthers

2015 Record: 5-5
Coach: Mike Manasco
2016 Outlook: Too often is Palmetto overlooked as a football program.

Granted, the school is one of the top academic facilities in the county – still, the Panthers put a premium on athletics as well.

Palmetto has still been able to bring in and develop some very good football prospects, but overall depth – especially along the offensive and defensive lines – has been the thing that has kept them out of the playoff race in recent years.

Head coach Mike Manasco is a Palmetto alum and would want nothing more than to lead a Panthers return to the postseason.

The Panthers have an under-the-radar quarterback gem in senior Hugh Lowson. While Lowson doesn’t have the prototypical size for a pocket passer, he has a solid arm and is a good decision-maker.

Junior running back Trey Flowers is another oft-overlooked prospect, but like Lowson, one would be making a mistake in dismissing Flowers just because of his size.

Offensive line play is once again a question mark, so Manasco and his staff will have to be creative in protecting Lowson and finding ways to get Flowers in open space.

Palmetto does have a true diamond in the rough in defensive end Kenneth Spiller. Having grown to 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, the senior still has the athleticism he showed earlier in his career as a linebacker but now has the size to battle with offensive linemen and get into the backfield.

South Dade Buccaneers

2015 Record: 10-2 (District Champion)
Coach: Nate Hudson
2016 Outlook: South Dade has become one of those programs that come into each season with a certain – high – level of expectation for success.

While the Buccaneers have been producing some pretty talent-laden rosters lately, it would best to point to head coach Nate Hudson and his coaching staff for South Dade’s string of success.

Hudson is a no-nonsense, tough and disciplined leader. He holds himself to a certain standard, and his team has no other choice to but to fall in line behind him.

Also, his staff is a tight-knit group of coaches that have done a good job of bringing in kids and developing them into the kinds of players that have had this team in the playoffs in three of the past four years and has amassed a 42-9 record in that span.

South Dade returns as the reigning district champ – a title that it won’t want to give up easily.

The Bucs do have to replace the production of running backs Jawon Hamilton, Ivan Smith and Tre’Ven Worthen. The three of them combined to rush for 2,000 yards and 29 touchdowns

Junior running back and Florida International University commit Darius Brown transferred in from Mater Academy and should assume the role of South Dade lead running back. Brown rushed for 884 yards and 13 touchdowns in a backfield timeshare at Mater, so he has the talent to be the No. 1 ball carrier.

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Leading the way for Brown and being an overall team leader is 6-foot-3, 285-pound senior offensive lineman Kyron Taylor. Taylor is an All-American wrestler with multiple state championships on his resume, so moving people around is right in his wheelhouse. You’d be hard-pressed to find a stronger lineman than Taylor in South Florida and there are few one-on-one matchups that he’s going to lose as an offensive lineman.

Senior and fellow state championship wrestler Chei Hill anchors South Dade’s defense from the middle linebacker position. He’s a downhill player that rocks ball carriers when he makes contact. Hill and Taylor are also the lone connection to the Buccaneers 2013 state team, so they have the trust of the coaching staff.

The quarterback position is a bit of an unknown, but South Dade will rely on its running game and defense – which has a very talented secondary with D.J. Ivey, Marquise Parnell and Jamal Anderson – to carry the load.

Southridge Spartans

2015 Record: 7-5 (District Runner-up)
Coach: Billy Rolle
2016 Outlook: Things have gotten really good, really fast for Southridge.

After posting back to back seven-win seasons that didn’t get past the second round of the playoffs, now the Spartans are Class 8A state championship contenders. Some would even say that it’s “championship or bust” for Southridge because of the collection of talent that the Spartans now have.

Already a team with a nice core of returning players, Southridge got a major talent infusion.

In came dynamic running back Bentavious Thompson, 6-foot-3, 240-pound defensive end Deandre Johnson, two-way athlete Antwan Collier and 2018 University of Miami commit and receiver Daquris Wiggins – all from Killian.

Quarterback Michael Cox moved in from Sunset and could find himself leading one the most explosive offenses in the state.

Also, the most important yet little-recognized addition was that of former St. Thomas Aquinas offensive lineman Cody Bowes. Bowes began his career at Gulliver Prep before spending his junior season with Aquinas, but chose to play his senior year closer to home and will be the anchor the Spartans line with his 6-foot-4, 280-pound frame and athleticism – which he developed from playing basketball.

Southridge will be able to attack teams vertically with receivers Rodney Scott (Miami commit) and Mark Pope as well as up the seams with 6-foot-4, 225-pound uber-athletic tight end Kemore Gamble – a University of Florida commit.

The Spartans defense has playmakers at every level too. Johnson will be the main man along the defensive line, while returners Nadarius Fagan, Brandon James and Diamante Howard all bring a distinct skill-set to the center of unit.

Southridge’s secondary may be its strength, though. Senior safety and Miami commit Billy Gibson (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) is the star. He’s solid in run support, but he’s best in coverage, where he seems to be a magnet for interceptions.

Natron Gibson (6-foot-4, 175 pounds) and Coemba Jones will likely rotate in alongside Gibson at the other safety position while Collier, Donovan Garnett and Juwan Horn patrol the boundaries at cornerback.

Southridge definitely has enough talent to be a state championship-winning team. It’s up to the coaches to manage the egos and personalities as well as instill order and discipline.

Bald Prediction

Southridge is no doubt the favorite to win this district. The Spartans are loaded with talented playmakers and they were able to win the district runner-up spot last season with a roster that good, but nowhere as good as the collection they have this season.

The district runner-up spot will come down to a pair of teams: Killian and South Dade.

South Dade is one of those teams that, as I like to say, “you haven’t beat them, until you’ve beaten them”. That means that no matter what, getting a victory over the Buccaneers is no easy task.

Still, I could see Killian coming out on top in what should be a spirited and highly competitive game. The Cougars should have enough to slow down South Dade’s ground game and Coach Javi Valdes will manufacture enough points to win the game and ultimately get his team into the playoffs in his first season there.

Palmetto will slide into the fourth spot. The Panthers have athletes, but overall depth will keep them from truly challenging the teams ahead of them.

Homestead should see better times in 2016, but because this district is so top heavy, they’ll still be in the final spot.

Predicted Champion: Southridge
Predicted Runner-Up: Killian

District MVP

Thinking outside the box, I’ll go on to say that it will be Southridge’s coaching staff that ends up being the “real MVP” of this district.

Just because the Spartans are oozing with talent, that doesn’t guarantee a title. With any “super team” there still needs to be a system in place. There needs to be order, there needs to be discipline and there needs to be an understanding of who the true go-to players are in certain situations.

It’s too easy to say “whoever is open” or “take your pick”.

That sounds good, but I’m willing to bet you that even USA’s Olympic Men’s Basketball team – coaches and players – knows who is going to be on the court during crunch time, who’s going to have the ball in their hands and who would take the last shot.

So it’ll be up to Billy Rolle and company to create a brotherhood and bond amongst the team and make sure they go about their business the right way every week.

Bold Prediction

I won’t call my shot on a Southridge state championship just yet.

I’ll play it closer to the vest and say that South Dade’s Darius Brown will be a top 10 rusher in Dade County this season.

He showed the kind of talent he has and what he could do in 2015 while splitting carries. Give him a lion’s share of the carries and there’s no reason to think that he couldn’t be a 1,200-yard producer.

Top Players

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Antwan Collier – Southridge
Bentavious Thompson – Southridge
Bernard Hudson – South Dade
Billy Gibson – Southridge
Brandon James – Southridge
Brian Baker – Killian
Cairiq Rackley – Killian
Chei Hill – South Dade
Cody Bowes – Southridge
Coemba Jones – Southridge
Damien Lindor – Homestead
Daquris Wiggins – Southridge
Darius Brown – South Dade
Darnell Durham – South Dade
Deandre Johnson – Southridge
Delano Morgan – Killian
Delone Scaife – Killian
Diamante Howard – Southridge
DJ Ivey – South Dade
Donovan Garnett – Southridge
Gary LaCount – Homestead
Greg Pruitt – Homestead
Hugh Lowson – Palmetto
Ivan Thomas – Palmetto
Jamal Anderson – South Dade
Jordan Dillard – Southridge
Kemore Gamble – Southridge
Kenneth Spiller – Palmetto
Kyron Taylor – South Dade
Mark Pope – Southridge
Marquise Parnell – South Dade
Michael Cox – Southridge
Nadarius Fagan – Southridge
Natron Grayson – Southridge
Rodney Scott – Southridge
Romelo Brooks – Killian
Shawn Davis – Southridge
Theodore Williams – Killian
Travis Murray – Southridge
Trey Flowers – Palmetto
Tyler Tacornal – Killian
Willie Houseal – Killian

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