Florida's best high school football teams, preseason players of the year and games to watch.
Florida Preseason Top 10
1. Miami Central Rockets
Miami Central boasts the most talented roster in Florida. The defending 6A state champs return 10 on offense, including two of the top three running backs in the nation in Florida commit Dalvin Cook and Miami commit Joseph Yearby. Miami commit Trevor Darling (6'5", 300) leads the offensive line, and junior Da’Vante Phillips is one of the state’s top 2015 wide receivers.
2. Booker T. Washington Tornadoes (Miami)
The defending Class 4A champs lose just three offensive starters and only five on defense. Coach Ice Harris’ son, Treon, leads the way at quarterback, and the roster is loaded with elite talent, highlighted by wide receiver Lamar Parker, defensive end Chad Thomas and defensive back Nigel Patten. The Tornadoes certainly know the way to the Orlando Citrus Bowl, the site of the state title game.
3. St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders (Fort Lauderdale)
Star wide receiver Corey Holmes is joined by Ely transfer wideout Devante Peete (Class of 2015) to give Western transfer quarterback Wade Freebeck another weapon. Freebeck missed several weeks during the summer with a broken thumb, so Jake Rizzo could also see snaps.
4. University School Suns (Fort Lauderdale)
Transfers at quarterback (Sean White) and linebacker (Richard Yeargin) as well as junior running back Jordan Scarlett lead the way for the Suns, who are making the move from 3A to 4A for the 2013 season.
5. Apopka Blue Darters
The 2012 8A champs boast a father-son combo with head coach Rick Darlington and hard-nosed quarterback Zack Darlington. The Darters have nine returning starters on defense, including standout defensive linemen Isaiah Buehler, Anthony Ellis and Eric Jackson.
6. First Coast Buccaneers (Jacksonville)
Quarterback De’Andre Johnson (a Florida State commit) and linebacker Sherrod Pittman are a pair of juniors who will lead the Bucs as they move up to Class 8A this fall. First Coast has lost only twice in the last two years.
7. Manatee Hurricanes (Bradenton)
The Hurricanes were ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation much of last year, but St. Thomas Aquinas took care of that. Manatee still has some weapons, led by D-tackle Demarcus Christmas, a Florida State commit.
8. Plant Panthers (Tampa)
It was a down year for Plant, which failed to make its annual state title-game trip. But after turning down a job with USF, coach Robert Weiner returns to get things back in order.
9. Sandalwood Saints (Jacksonville)
The Saints have two Florida State commits — linebacker Kain Daub and defensive end Blake McClain. With a few newcomers and some big-time underclassmen, Sandalwood could challenge.
10. Oviedo Lions
The Lions move up to Class 8A after making the 7A quarterfinals last year. The top weapons are back, led by quarterback Chris Davis Jr. and defensive end Tyree Owens, both seniors, and a slew of junior studs.
Five Can't Miss Matchups
8.30 – Miami Central at Plantation American Heritage
This game features the top three running backs in the state with Heritage’s Sony Michel (Georgia commit) and Central’s dynamic duo of Dalvin Cook (Florida commit) and Joseph Yearby (Miami commit). Unfortunately for Michel, he’ll face one of the state’s top defenses.
9.6 – Miami Central vs. Booker T. Washington (at Sun Life Stadium)
It’s early for this showdown of the state’s top two teams, but these two will play each other anytime, anywhere. They met on the same Dolphins turf last year, with Central rallying behind Joseph Yearby, who played quarterback, for a 37-26 victory.
11.1 – Jacksonville First Coast at Jacksonville Sandalwood
Prospects abound in this one, and three of them are already committed to Florida State in Sandalwood linebacker Kain Daub and defensive end Blake McClain and First Coast quarterback De’Andre Johnson. The First Coast offense should give Sandalwood a big test in this key Class 8A district matchup.
11.1 – Oviedo at Orlando Timber Creek
Junior running back Jacques Patrick leads Creek against an Oviedo team that has five players with FBS offers. This will either be for the district title or a clash for second place to determine who stays home for the playoffs.
11.8 – Fort Lauderdale University School at Miami Central
This is a county battle for the ages pitting Broward and Miami-Dade schools. Defending 6A champ Central hosts 3A champ University, which moves to 4A. The scheduling is odd, with the state playoffs beginning the next week, but these teams will be ready for this epic showdown.
2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Sony Michel, RB, Plantation
Senior, 5-11, 205
Michel is a special running back who has been starting for the Patriots since his eighth-grade year, when he ran for 1,825 yards and 18 touchdowns. He followed his debut varsity season with another 18 touchdowns and 1,264 yards as a freshman, but he missed his sophomore season with a torn ACL. He was back at it again last year, churning out 1,667 yards and 21 more touchdowns. Michel committed to Georgia in April, and the Bulldogs can’t wait to get him between the hedges. With his recruiting behind him, he can focus on the 2013 season, and he’ll be looking for the 2,000-yard mark. He’s ranked by many recruiting websites as the No. 1 running back prospect in Florida and the No. 2 running back in the country behind everybody’s No. 1, Leonard Fournette of New Orleans.
2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Dillon Bates, LB, Ponte Vedra (Ponta Vedra Beach)
Senior, 6-3, 220
The epitome of a football player, Bates has been molded by a big-time role model. Former Dallas Cowboys safety Bill Bates is his dad, and the elder Bates has instilled some of the same characteristics that kept the old man roaming the Cowboys’ defensive secondary for 15 years in the NFL. Dillon Bates is disciplined, hard-hitting and intelligent on the field. He gets after the ball and covers the run and pass with equal efficiency. He’s one of the best pass-coverage linebackers in the state, and against the run, Bates sheds blockers as well as anyone. He’s already announced his top five college choices, with dad’s alma mater Tennessee sitting on top. He also likes, in order: Florida, Alabama, Texas and South Carolina. He had 63 tackles and three interceptions last year after recording 100-plus tackles as a sophomore.