Football has become a top priority for almost all of the teams in this district. Because of that, the level of competition is probably higher than it's ever been. While there is a pair of teams that seem to control the top, that doesn't mean the others aren't chomping at the bit to knock them off.
Belen Jesuit Wolverines
2015 Record: 7-4 (District Champion)
Coach: Rich Stuart
2016 Outlook: Talk about longevity and consistency.
Belen Jesuit has been under the direction of head coach Rich Stuart for a very long time – upwards of 30 years – and he's still going strong. Stuart represents all that is good in South Florida high school football and Belen will forever be better because of it.
The Wolverines asserted their dominance and took home the district title this past season with a spotless record against district foes. That likely won't change in 2016 as Belen has a nice mix of returning upperclassmen and budding young talent on its roster.
Senior Pedro Garcia and junior Gabriel Estrada return as ball carriers. Estrada and Garcia finished second and third respectively in total rushing for the Wolverines last season and will once again be factors in Stuart's patented Wing-T offense.
The big boost in Belen's offense will come from freshman star Don Chaney. Chaney, who saw limited varsity action as an eighth-grader this past season, has physically matured (measuring 5-foot-11, 180 pounds) and figures to be one of Dade's top backs over the next four years. The class of 2020 prospect holds offers from Florida Atlantic, Boston College, Syracuse and Miami.
Chaney and the rest of the Wolverines' backs will benefit from running behind a more than solid offensive line, which will be anchored by 6-foot-3, 285-pound diamond in the rough Antonio Serrano.
No matter what happens this year, Belen's season will be special because the team will travel to Dublin, Ireland on September 2nd to face Georgia Marist School as part of the Aer Lingus Classic/American Football Showcase – a triple-header event that will feature high school teams from Florida, Georgia and New Jersey proceeded by a college game on the following day between Georgia Tech and Boston College.
2015 Record: 4-6
Coach: Juan Torres
2016 Outlook: Braddock enters the 2016 season as a team trying to replace a lot of pieces to their football puzzle.
Looking past their 4-6 record from 2015, the Bulldogs had a handful of talented seniors that played a significant role on both the ball – namely running back Alex "Peanut" Victor and linebacker Yean Gonzalez.
Braddock also got hit by the transfer train as quarterback Angel Alvarez left and went to Doral Academy.
Now, head coach Juan Torres must find new playmakers and leaders for a team that has had success in the not-so-distant past.
Junior defensive end/linebacker Jason Reese is could end up being someone who makes a splash on the Bulldogs' defense. He was a state qualifier in track and field, so it is Braddock's hope that he can translate that athleticism into sacks and tackles.
Another player to watch is junior receiver Santana Moss Jr. The son of former University of Miami and Washington Redskins receiver Santana Moss, it'll be interesting to see how the younger Moss' skills have developed – since he saw limited action in 2015.
Coral Reef Barracudas
2015 Record: 4-6
Coach: Joseph Petisco
2016 Outlook: While Belen has had one coach for almost three decades, Coral Reef is welcoming its fourth coach in as many years.
Gone is Javi Valdes, who filled Killian's vacant coaching spot.
Enter Joseph Petisco; the former Sunset head coach and alum who led the Knights to their best season in school history. To his credit, Petisco has a good football mind and he appears to be someone who knows how to build up a program.
Coral Reef, as a school. is one of the best academic institutions in South Florida. While that will attract a great brand of kids, the Barracudas' football program has to truly develop and manufacture its own stars as there really isn't a natural optimist feeder program that pumps into the school.
But Petisco takes over a team that has some pieces to build around.
The defense will likely be the strength of the team. Senior safety/linebacker Colvin Alford is unheralded, but he's a very good football player – evident by his Temple University offer. Senior Brandon Rojas will lock down the middle of the Barracudas defense while senior Michael Martinez (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) and junior Zakary Etienne will rush opposing passers from the defensive end spots.
Coral Reef's question mark lies on the offensive side of the ball.
It was a big blow when running back Jordon Donaldson – who rushed for 800 yards in 2015 – transferred to Southridge, so Petisco will have to find an offensive bell cow to operate behind a solid offensive line that is anchored by 6-foot-3, 290-pound junior Jaylaan Williams.
2015 Record: 0-10
Coach: Gene Chew
2016 Outlook: Things did not go the way Ferguson wanted them to in 2015.
The Falcons finished the season without a victory.
As unfortunate as that was, Ferguson could see a silver lining in the fact that it cut its margin of defeat down by more than 50 percent from the first five games of the season to the final five.
And it's not like Ferguson is some downtrodden program; head coach Gene Chew has led the Falcons to success before. Ferguson was 7-3 and on the brink of making the postseason in 2014 under Chew, so he knows what it takes to get the most out of this team.
Ferguson should be able to find itself on the winning side of the scoreboard this season.
It'll need incumbent starting quarterback Cris Martinez to have taken a step forward in his development as a signal caller. Martinez was the team's leading passer – and second-leading rusher – this past season, but he'll have to improve his accuracy – which will help his turnover ratio.
The Falcons do have decent size along its defense. Senior defensive end Louis Pierre-Louis (6-foot-1, 225 pounds) is looking to have a productive season, as are senior nose tackle Stephen Schneider (6-foot-2, 260 pounds) and junior defensive end/linebacker Sebastian Garcia (6-foot-1, 215 pounds).
Ferguson just needs to find and develop playmakers at the skill positions so that it could compete with the other teams in this district.
2015 Record: 7-4 (District Runner-up)
Coach: Tim Neal
2016 Outlook: Here's something a lot of people probably haven't realized about Southwest: over the past four seasons, the Eagles have won a total of 32 games and has made the playoffs each year.
The Eagles have quietly become one of the most consistently solid teams in Miami-Dade County.
Kudos to Patrick Burrows for laying the foundation, but credit head coach Tim Neal for keeping the program forward in a positive direction and continuing to produce solid teams and developing more than a handful of very good football players.
Neal has been able to find – and more importantly, keep – at least one cornerstone-type player that can carry the team while Neal molds the other players around him to create a solid overall unit.
Things aren't any different this season.
Neal struck it big when optimist league superstar running back Andre Stringfield elected to join the Eagles. Stringfield, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound youngster with sub 4.6 speed, was one of the most highly coveted players coming to the high school level and now he'll be the headliner of Southwest's backfield for years to come.
Junior running back Te'Corey Tutson will work alongside Stringfield and make create a dynamic duo that people won't have a choice but to pay attention to.
Also, luckily for Southwest, it has a big man up front to open up running lanes in senior Keanu Sullivan. Sullivan has a great frame (6-foot-5), that he just needs to continue to add mass to, making him a diamond in the rough prospect that should only get better as time passes.
Southwest does have a defensive leader in senior linebacker Michael Martinez but Neal needs to find guys to get a consistent push along the defensive line and playmakers to roam the secondary.
And here's the kicker – Southwest has a pretty good kicker, too. Senior Antonio Garcia, who's successfully worked his way back from a knee injury, is one of the better kickers in South Florida – being able to hit from as far as 50 yards out.
2015 Record: 4-6
Coach: Carlos Mollinedo
2016 Outlook: Varela is a team looking to get out of the middle of the pack.
The Vipers have either been one game above or below .500 or 5-5 every year since 2009. While some programs would love to claim that kind of record, Varela surely wants to be more than an average program.
It won't help Varela's cause that it lost its top rusher from 2015, Delano Morgan, to transfer. Morgan, who took his talents to Killian, scored 14 total touchdowns last season and undoubtedly would've been the Vipers' go-to guy on offense.
Also gone is offensive athlete (quarterback/receiver) Shamar Munroe, who transferred to Coral Gables.
So head coach Carlos Mollinedo, who's entering his fifth season leading the team, must find a new core of playmakers that can consistently impact a game.
Senior Eddie Arocho now becomes the top returning offensive weapon for the Vipers. His role was limited in 2015 behind Morgan, but Arocho could be in line to receive a lion's share of the carries in 2016.
The Vipers will be heavily reliant on its defense this season – especially early on as the offense finds it footing. Senior safety Giovanny Matos is one of the leaders and a prospect that could play his way into receiving attention from colleges.
Senior linebackers Armand Rosario, who is working his way back from an offseason injury, and Julio Prosopio should be among the team's leading tacklers.
Belen is still the safe pick to win this district. The Wolverines coaching staff knows the game inside and out and this is a season where they have a talented enough roster to go up against just about anyone.
Southwest would be the flashy pick to be district champs, but I think they are a more logical pick to be district runners-up. The Eagles have a young offense that will make a lot of positive things happen this season, but their best years are still very much ahead of them.
Coral Reef will once again slot into the third position. Coach Petisco will begin to lay the groundwork for building back up the program while finding new offensive playmakers that will aid the team this year.
I see Varela taking a step forward and claiming the fourth spot, overtaking Braddock – which has a bit more rebuilding to do – and leaving Ferguson to more than likely win a game or two this year but still finish at the bottom of the district.
Predicted Champion: Belen Jesuit
Predicted Runner-Up: Southwest
I love when I can give this honor to the offensive line.
The most valuable "players" will be Belen's offensive line. Naturally, because the Wolverines employ a Wing-T offense, the play of the offensive line will dictate whether or not the team is successful.
But 2016 could be a season where Belen puts up some impressive total rushing numbers because of talent of its running backs. And the total success of the season – a win in Ireland, a potential district and making a splash in the playoffs – will come down to those five guys up front.
I will say that Southwest's Andre Stringfield will finish with more rushing yards than Belen's Don Chaney this season.
Both will be splitting carries with other backs, but Chaney will have to share more because of the way Belen's system functions – using at least three different ball carriers each game.
Stringfield will only share with Te'Corey Tutson, so he'll have more opportunities available to chew up yards.
Still, this will be a running back battle to watch for years to come.
Alejandro Hernandez – Varela
Alessandro Cantillo – Ferguson
Alfonso Rodriguez – Belen Jesuit
Andre Stringfield – Southwest
Andrew Lopez – Braddock
Anthony Rodriguez – Braddock
Antonio Garcia – Southwest
Antonio Serrano – Belen Jesuit
Bailey Aleman – Ferguson
Brandon Rojas – Coral Reef
Colvin Alford – Coral Reef
Cris Martinez – Ferguson
Diego Ortega – Belen Jesuit
Don Chaney – Belen Jesuit
Ednell Dominguez – Varela
Gabriel Aparicio – Belen Jesuit
Gabriel Seda – Belen Jesuit
Gio Matos – Varela
Ivan Ramirez – Ferguson
Jason Reese – Braddock
Javier Hernandez – Belen Jesuit
Jaylaan Williams – Coral Reef
Joey Plasencia – Belen Jesuit
John "J.J." Jaramillo – Southwest
Julio Prosopio – Varela
Keanu Sullivan – Southwest
Keith Anderson – Coral Reef
Louis Pierre – Ferguson
Lucas Pola – Belen Jesuit
Manny Pineda – Southwest
Mathew Crespo – Belen Jesuit
Mike Martinez – Southwest
Nick Jimenez – Coral Reef
Pedro Garcia – Belen Jesuit
Russell Martin – Varela
Santana Moss Jr. – Braddock
Steven Stallings – Braddock
Te'Corey Tutson – Southwest
Zakary Etienne – Coral Reef
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