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August 8, 2014

Meet the Expert: South Florida

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FlaVarsity.com has compiled a team of regional experts across the state of Florida. We will introduce each expert during the summer, and we end with south Florida.

We have FlaVarsity.com contributor Naji Tobias to cover the area, and here's his quick bio.

Naji Tobias has been covering high school football since 2006. The New York native started working for the Belle Glade Sun newspaper in the year that Glades Central, Glades Day and Pahokee - all within an 8-mile radius - set a record by winning state titles simultaneously. He went on to become a writer and photographer for FlaVarsity.com in 2008. After spending several years covering the Muck area teams exclusively, he expanded his role by focusing on Palm Beach County - and even Immokalee occasionally - for FlaVarsity in 2012. A year later, his coverage base spread out even further, as he occasionally covered teams from Broward County and Dade County. He has also written for Runningthebulls.com. In addition to all that, he is the co-founder of Prepbuilders.com, a high school football website which was formed in 2012 and covers all the teams in Palm Beach County, as well as Clewiston in Hendry County. It is evident that he has a great passion for providing exposure to players and teams in South Florida and beyond.

To get ready for high school football this fall, we asked Tobias several questions about what to watch for in his area.

Who is the top team in your area and why?

NT: Without a doubt, it's Booker T. Washington out of Miami. The defending Class 4A state champions are coming off a historic season in which they not only finished the year with a 14-0 record, but also culminated their storybook campaign as the No. 1 overall team in FlaVarsity's all-classification poll and the USA Today national championship as the No. 1 team in the country.

Despite the losses of uber-talented standouts such as QB Treon Harris and CB Nigel Bethel, the Tornadoes still have tons of firepower in their arsenal. They will be bringing back the likes of WR Antonio Callaway, CB Davante Davis, WR Shaquille Green, WR Vaquan Small, DB T.J. Jefferson and DB Ocie Rose.

Let's not forget that Booker T. Washington demolished their competition in what was arguably the state's most brutal classification last season, as they took down the likes of Glades Central, University School, Cocoa and Jacksonville Bolles to reach the 4A summit.

Can they be the top team again in South Florida and all of Class 4A? Unless something catastrophic happens with the Tornadoes, it's very hard to see it happening any other way.

Other South Florida contenders for No. 1: Miami Central (defending Class 6A state champions), St. Thomas Aquinas (Class 7A regional finalists in 2013), Plantation American Heritage (defending Class 5A state champions), Champagnat Catholic (defending Class 2A state champions), Dwyer (defending Class 7A state champions), Palm Beach Gardens (Class 8A state semifinalists - 2013), Miramar (Class 8A regional finalists - 2013), Delray American Heritage (did not qualify for Class 3A playoffs - 2013) and Westminster Christian (Class 3A state semifinalists - 2013).

Who might not be getting enough attention in your area that you think will breakout this season and why?

NT: This is going to shock plenty of people in South Florida, but Royal Palm Beach may be the team that makes some serious noise in Class 7A this season. The Wildcats, who are led by the likes of LB Charles Perry (Miami verbal commit), QB Toddy Centeio, CB Davon Brown, RB Demarcus Holloway and ATH Shamar Jackson, have a nice combination of youth and experience on their team. Royal Palm Beach, which failed to qualify for the playoffs last season, actually has the personnel to get by defending Class 7A state champion and District 13-7A champion Dwyer in the regular season. If the Wildcats can pull it off, then it would be prudent to actually watch out for them.

Who is the top 2015 prospect in your area? 2016?

NT: Top 2015 player: It's basically a toss-up between WR Calvin Ridley (Monarch) and WR Da'Vante Phillips (Miami Central). Both are very explosive off the line of scrimmage. Both are great at gaining separation from the opposition. Both have incredible hands. Both can extend a play by making the catches you need them to get and gaining extra yardage in the process. Both are ranked in the Top 50 of the latest Rivals.com rankings.

But if you want to look at their highlight tapes and dissect them further, the edge would go to 5-star wideout Calvin Ridley (No. 17 in Rivals100) over 4-star Da'Vante Phillips (No. 38 in Rivals100).

Other 2015 contenders for No. 1: Plantation American Heritage CB and 5-star Tarvarus McFadden (No. 21 in Rivals100); Miramar DB and 4-star Tyrek Cole (No. 44 in Rivals100); Plantation American Heritage ATH and 4-star Torrance Gibson (No. 51 in Rivals100).

Top 2016 player: DB Dionte Mullins (Gulliver Prep)

What will be a key storyline to watch in your area this fall?

NT: Can Dwyer repeat as Class 7A state champions? With the losses of WR Johnnie Dixon, WR Ezra Saffold, WR Clint Stephens, RB Alonzo Smith, DE Mark Kelly, ATH Shawun Lurry and S Shawn Boone, the Panthers will have to make do with the likes QB Daniel Parr, TE Nick Martinsen, RB Cornelius Smith and new additions such as WR Tavares Martin (John I. Leonard transfer) and ATH Erick Hardnett (Cardinal Newman transfer).

Few expect last year's 7A champs to get past St. Thomas Aquinas again, given the fact that the Raiders have gained RB Jordan Scarlett (University School transfer) and WR Sam Bruce (University School transfer), while bringing back more than half of their roster, including the likes of WR Devante Peete, RB Deltron Sands, QB Jake Rizzo, LB Wyatt Ray, DB Rashard Causey and DT Nicholas Bosa.

In last year's Class 7A regional final, Parr led Dwyer to a 35-28 win over St. Thomas Aquinas. Many expect STA to turn the tables on Dwyer and ultimately win this year's 7A state title.

Other 7A state title contenders such as East Lake (Tarpon Springs) and Niceville may have a say in the team that ends up hoisting the state championship trophy in December.

What will end up happening down the line? We'll have to wait and see how it all plays out.


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