Central, Booker T. enter season as #1 teams

Akilah Laster | 8/22/2013, noon
Four of the nation’s top 25 high school football teams hail from South Florida; Miami Central (ranked No. 1 on ...
Booker T. seniors (from left) DB Nigel Patten, QB Treon Harris, RB Krondis Larry, DL Chad Thomas. Photo by Akilah Laster

Four of the nation’s top 25 high school football teams hail from South Florida; Miami Central (ranked No. 1 on MaxPreps.com), Booker T. Washington Senior High School (ranked No. 1 in USAToday poll), St. Thomas Aquinas High School (Fort Lauderdale (ranked No. 11 in USAToday poll) and University School (Fort Lauderdale, ranked No. 25 on MaxPreps.com). The State of Florida has more high schools in the top 25 polls this year, than any other state with Texas coming in second.

Such recognition could come with a sense of urgency to live up to extremely high expectations. But both Booker T. and

Central, reigning Class 4A and 6A state champions, say they’re not letting it become a distraction.

“As coaches we try to keep it in perspective with the players,” said Booker T. head coach, Tim “Ice” Harris. “With the schedule that we have, you have to play week in and week out.”

Roland Smith, former head coach of Northwestern when they claimed the 2006 state title, is now in his first year at Central after a six-season hiatus. He says his goal is to keep his team focused.

“They’ve been ranked high like this before,” Smith said about last year’s team, who entered the season losing two of its first three games. “We’re not worrying about our opponents right now because we need to just get better day by day and night by night while we’re practicing.”

Benefits come with being #1

While each respective team shies away from defining itself solely by its ranking, the schools’ climates and surrounding communities have benefited from the football teams’ prestige.

“The football season is the first major thing that really happens in the school year and it drives the morale and the spirit of the school,” said Gregory Bethune, principal of Central. “People don’t make the direct correlation with it, but if you take a look at universities, when their football teams win their enrollment spikes and that’s been a truth for us as well.”

According to Bethune, enrollment has reached close to 2,000 students.

“The students are a bit more focused in terms of having this great football program,” said William Aristide, the principal of Booker T. “Kids are walking with their shoulders squared [and] just being very positive. When you have a very good football program, during football season our attendance rates are higher and there are fewer fights because they really embrace the football team.”

While Central, who was 12-2 last season, has been nationally ranked over the past several seasons, Booker T.’s newfound success is comparable to the Miami Heat, according to Aristide.

“Everybody likes success, people want to be associated with success. People love a winner,” Aristide said.

Players for both teams are already looking to the future. Central’s senior running back duo Dalvin Cook committed to University of Florida and Joseph Yearby committed to the University of Miami; Booker T.’s senior quarterback Treon Harris has committed to Florida State.

Focus and leadership will be necessary for both teams, whose season start this Saturday with two major away games. Central faces Dwyer High School (Palm Beach), ranked 16th in the state. Booker T. will head up the road to Georgia to play No. 6 nationally ranked Norcross High School. Meanwhile, local fans are looking ahead to the head-to head match up when the Rockets and Tornados battle it out on September 9th at Traz Powell. The Tornados, who were 13-1 last season, are set to bounce back from last year’s only loss — a disappointing knock out, 37-26, by the Rockets at Sun Life Stadium.

“We all have a great relationship and we understand the opportunity of playing against each other this year is going to be exciting and we’re looking forward to it,” Harris said.