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As the first week of the 2016 high school football season began this past week, we found that while some things change – others do indeed stay the same.

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The one thing that has really taken center stage is the amount of high-level talent South Florida continues to produce. The spring, summer and everything in-between months that offer these exceptional football players and opportunity to get better and enhance their standing.

South Florida kids will go anywhere and will compete against anyone. It has been drummed into them since starting youth football as early as 6. As many continue to search for the reasons that players and teams have no fear of any opponent or individual – the answer may be right there in front of them every Saturday.

Youth football, for as long as anyone can remember, has produced elite prospects who have climbed that ladder to the high school level, collegiate ranks and ultimately, the NFL – or some form of professional football.

Since as far back as the 60s and 70s, youth football has set the tempo for runs at state and national exposure for programs such as the Miami Highs of the 1940s and 50s, Coral Gables in the 60s and programs such as Northwestern, Carol City, Killian, South Dade, Central, Booker T. Washington, and dozens of private programs such as St. Thomas Aquinas that has long produced talent and won the huge games.

Youth football has indeed been that lifeline for many of these powers in South Florida; and while much of the publicity in the past was hard to get on these players, unless you watched them live, today, things have changed.

Last year, when Nayquan Wright of Carol City and James Cook of Central came in as ninth graders, they were immediate impact performers – with Cook actually giving the Rockets the offensive power against Seffner Armwood to win a fourth straight Class 6A state title.

Wright and Cook are not alone, by the time these young men are in the 8th grade, everyone wants to know where they are headed to high school.

No other area tracks its youth prospects like we do down here – with Jerry Williamson, a recent guest of The Baldcast J.T. Wilcox podcast, Darrien Green and Generation Nexxt co-founder Jonah Woullard, putting these young prospects in the spotlight from the beginning their career.

BOOKER T. WASHINGTON CONTINUES TO WIN BIG GAMES
A little more than an hour before last Friday night’s titanic national matchup between top-rated St. Thomas Aquinas and 4-time defending state 4A champion Booker T. Washington at the newly improved Traz Powell Stadium, the tone was set for the night.

As veteran head coach Ice Harris led his team into the locker area, he told them that if they “are not ready for the next few hours, to stay on the bus – because this team was about to play the kind of ball that has earned this program respect over the past decade.

What Harris had to tell his team was the same thing he said to them the week before – when the Tornadoes went to nationally-rated Plantation American Heritage and soundly beat the Patriots.

The thrilling 27-23 win over the Raiders may have been a surprise to many around the country or the thousands who watched at the “Mecca”, but not to Harris, his coaches or the players who had been a huge part of the four state champions this team has won the past four seasons.

With the likes of Hall of Famers Michael Irvin, Larry Little and so many others on hand, BTW traded punches with a deep St. Thomas team – and after a 45-minute lightning delay – won the game and once again earned the respect of a nation, once again.

For the Raiders who had turnovers and plenty of mistakes, the game was still there for the taking, but big plays and the cool hand of sophomore quarterback Daniel Richardson proved to be the difference.

As many watched and observed, the one thing that St. Thomas usually has the advantage is overall talent, depth and better offensive and defensive lines. That was not the case in this contest. The Tornadoes had as much firepower – and in the end won a game that many in the 305 never considered to be an upset. Not when you have run the state and nation the way this program has for five consecutive seasons.

Both teams will certainly continue to raise the flag for an area that simply has no rival when it came to talent.

BOOKER T. WASHINGTON PROSPECT WATCH
2018 – Jaquan Beaver, LB
2018 – Quinton Brooks, DL
2017 – Richard Dames, DB
2017 – Rishard Dames, DB
2017 – Teaki Fuller, OL
2018 – Robert Hicks, DE
2018 – Detron Holloway, DB
2019 – Dontae Lucas, OL
2017 – Dedrick Mackey, DB
2017 – Craig Nelson, RB
2017 – Willa Pierre, OL
2019 – Daniel Richardson, QB
2017 – Kadeem Telfort, OL
2017 – Guy Thomas, DE
2018 – Tyquan Thornton, WR
2017 – Sharod Johnson, WR
2017 – Deandre Williams, WR

ST. THOMAS AQUINAS PROSPECT WATCH
2017 – Jake Allen, QB
2017 – Nicholas Antonacci, OL
2017 – Kivon Bennett, DL
2018 – Alphonso Blades, DB
2018 – Nikolas Bonitto, DE
2018 – Coleman Crozier, DL
2017 – Tyler Dunning, DL
2017 – Mike Epstein, RB
2017 – Trevon Grimes, WR
2017 – Kedonis Haslem, OL
2018 – Tavares Kelly, Athlete
2017 – Grant Miller, WR
2018 – Elijah Moore, RB
2017 – Lashawn Paulino, DL
2017 – Marco Salani, PK
2018 – Asante Samuel, DB
2018 – Rocky Shelton, LB
2018 – Jason Swann, OL
2017 – Andrew White, LB
2017 – Myles Wright, DB

CORAL GABLES MAKES A STATEMENT
Since the 2015 season came to an end, we have heard about St. Thomas Aquinas, Central, Booker T. Washington, Flanagan, Northwestern, Carol City, Boyd Anderson, American Heritage and Christopher Columbus and programs to watch this year in that race for Orlando.

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But after last Thursday night – and for the fourth straight year under head coach Coral Gables alumnus Roger Pollard – the Cavaliers may be needed to that coveted “watch list” as well.

In knocking off state and nationally-rated Carol City for the second straight year, this is indeed a football program to keep an eye on and start mentioning a bit more. Not because they won the 19-16 overtime game, but this is a team that seems to be left out of that conversation when it comes to championship football.

Pollard and a staff that includes Terry Doctor, Larry Fitts, Dorian Munroe, Aaron Miller, Alex Pou, Alton Strachan, David Benoit and Malcolm Munroe, have worked extremely hard with these football players and quietly bringing in some pieces that fit this program.

With another suffocating defense and a solid offense that has its share of playmakers, watch out once again.

CAROL CITY PROSPECT WATCH
2018 – Johaun Beresford, WR
2018 – Travis Bivins, DB
2018 – Mark Carter, Jr., Athlete
2017 – Handy Cheranfant, OL
2017 – Jerrod Clersaint, OL
2017 – Naytron Culpepper, DB
2018 – Camron Davis, RB
2018 – Irshaad Davis, DB
2017 – Kevaughn Dingle, WR
2017 – Jamare Edwards, DE
2017 – Zion Hartsfield, DB
2017 – Morris Lugo, LB
2018 – Montreal Newton, Jr., OL
2018 – Randy Russell, DB
2017 – Terry Straughter, LB
2017 – Donelle Thomas, DB
2017 – Victor Tucker, WR
2017 – Deandre Wilder, LB
2020 – Marcel Williams, QB
2019 – Nayquan Wright, RB

CORAL GABLES PROSPECT WATCH
2017 – Jordan Arribas, OL
2019 – Rayquan Berry, Athlete
2018 – Edgerrin Doctor, WR
2017 – Adryan Ellis, LB
2017 – Elyjah Felton, DB
2018 – Johnny Ford, RB
2018 – Gilbert Frierson, DB
2017 – Nick Galuppo, QB
2019 – Everton Henry, OL
2017 – Kahvon Lovett, DB
2017 – Robert McWilliams III, DE
2018 – Shemar Munroe, Athlete
2017 – Kristopher Moll, LB
2017 – Kevin Nuno, OL
2018 – Derrius Perryman, LB
2018 – Anthony Puntonet, DB
2018 – Sebastian Riella, PK
2017 – Kevin Romer, WR
2017 – Jamar Thompkins, RB
2018 – Rashad Wildgoose, DB

WESTERN MAKES A STATEMENT IN OPENER
No matter what the so-called “experts”, who watch three months of football, have to say, all may end up eating their uninformed words by the end of this season.

When all the predictions came in for the pre-season, head coach Adam Ratkevich and his Western Wildcats were an afterthought by many who simply do not cover high school football year round. There was no way many would have picked this program to finish toward the bottom of a district where there was really no clear-cut favorite.

After “district favorite” Flanagan lost its opener, and Miramar beat Class 7A Mater Academy, this Western team has to feel mighty confident as they now move on after the opening game of the season.

The convincing 45-7 win over Hialeah’s Barbara Goleman at Milander Stadium to start the 2016 campaign, you have to believe that this is a team – stacked with talent on both sides of the ball – has a true chance to making the playoffs.

This was a win that really showed how far the Wildcats have come. Having an outstanding offseason, including a successful 7-on-7 season, they are now a team that you cannot turn your back on. They have talent and speed and the positions that you need – and while Miramar and Flanagan still loom as huge games, you have to believe that this team has the potential of being one of the most talented the school has produced.

GOLEMAN PROSPECT WATCH
2018 – Joshua Bacallao, OL/DL
2019 – Jorge Baez, LB
2020 – Kamal Barnes, OL/DL
2018 – John Correa, RB/DB
2017 – Gianni De La Vega, OL/DL
2017 – Keoni De La Vega, OL/DL
2018 – Derrick Hall, RB
2017 – Bradley Hill, OL/DL
2017 – Kawori Myers, DL
2017 – C.J. Noralus, DL
2019 – Zamareeh Odoms, DL
2017 – Claudius Pubien, DB
2018 – Bryan Reinstrom, DL
2017 – Anthony Romero, RB/DB
2019 – Myles Smith, WR/DB
2019 – Nelson Valladares, DB
2017 – Jose “Pepe” Valdiva, LB
2018 – Brayan Vergara, LB
2019 – Christopher Vidal, QB
2017 – John Wright, LB

WESTERN PROSPECT WATCH
2017 – Keshaun Clarke, RB
2017 – Matt Hansen, DE
2017 – Julian Hernandez, OL
2018 – Frankie Herran, DB
2018 – Jacob Kaplan, OL
2017 – Josh Lazarus, LB
2017 – Darius Maxwell, WR
2017 – Dylan Merino, WR/RB
2017 – Henry Moran, OLB
2017 – Chris Nunez, OL
2017 – Kevin Oliver, DE
2017 – Evan Rojas, OL
2018 – Robbie Ruebel, DB
2017 – Ethan Rodriguez, OL
2018 – Dannie Sanders, WR
2017 – Hunter Stephens, DB
2018 – Harrison Story, QB
2017 – Ki-Jana White, WR

VIKINGS WILL RELY ON TOUGH DEFENSE – AGAIN
You don’t have to remind Norland head coach Darryl Heidelburg about his 2016 schedule – or the most prospect-rich group of programs in the country in his district. He already knows.

With a challenging non-district schedule – and district meetings with national power Miami Central, Carol City and Northwestern – the opening game of the 2016 season was important for this team to get off on the right foot.

Even with key losses in the offseason, the Vikings still will be one of those quality defensive football programs – as they showed last Saturday night, coming up huge and holding on for a 9-6 win over a very competitive Jacksonville Ribault squad.

While this program does have some playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, the defense will once again dictate the outcome of many games this season, but that schedule will certainly toughen them up.

NORLAND PROSPECT WATCH
2017 – Tyrese Allen, DB
2018 – Maxilla Amical, DB
2017 – Lytii Borders, RB
2018 – Alec Carr, QB
2017 – Rashad Colson, OL/DL
2017 – Jaylen Daphnis, OL
2017 – Aaron Duncan, DB
2018 – T.J. Evans, RB
2018 – Artic Harris, OL
2018 – Mervin Jean, DB
2017 – Noel Jennings, OL
2017 – Tevin Jones, OLB
2018 – Khalil Jordan, LB
2018 – Reginald Lee, Jr., DT
2018 – Kevon O’Connor, WR
2017 – Dave Richards, WR
2017 – Keion Ross, S
2018 – Marden Sanon, DB
2017 – Keith Thornton, OLB
2019 – Darius Williams, OLB
2017 – Thomas Williams, DE

RIBAULT PROSPECT WATCH
2017 – Shandon Brown, WR
2018 – Kenneth Chenelle, WR/S
2017 – Louis Dorsey, WR
2017 – Dewayne Eason, RB/LB
2017 – Jalen Ford, TE/DE
2017 – Jakeem Gelsey, S
2017 – Jamal Harrison, DE
2018 – Jabari Jaudon, DB
2018 – Jaylen Joyner, TE/DE
2018 – Jamal Marsh, QB
2018 – Devon Matthews, S
2018 – Mike McCray, WR/DB
2018 – Rio Nelson, WR
2018 – Jon Singleton, RB/DB
2017 – Virgil Stuart, DE
2017 – Brandon Terry, OL
2017 – Marcus Tolbert, OL/DL
2017 – Kenton Tucker, OL/DL
2018 – Javon Williams, RB/DB
2017 – Ryan Williams, QB

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