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ORLANDO -- Following its 37-14 victory against Gainesville High School in Saturday afternoon's FHSAA Class 6A state championship game at the Citrus Bowl, the on-field celebrations had just begun when the inevitable question was asked of Miami Central coaches and players.
What about next year?
Considering what the Rockets have coming back, the argument could be made for a preseason No. 1 national ranking in 2013.
Central will return 10 starters on offense and six on defense. Included in that group is the state's best tailback tandem, Dalvin Cook, a Clemson commitment, and Joseph Yearby, who has pledged to Florida State.
Replacing USF kicking commitment Emilio Nadelman won't be easy, but Central will manage, and if the rumors are true, a new standout quarterback could be on campus in the not-too-distant future. If that happens, Keith Reed, more athlete than passer, would move to another position.
"It's very exciting what could be in front of us," said Cook, who finished with 79 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries against GHS. "We have pretty much our whole offense back and most of our defense, so I know people will be looking for us to do big things.
"I could see us being ranked first in the country."
Mutual admiration society
Yearby (23 carries for 125 yards with two touchdowns) and Cook delivered their usual stellar performance, combining for 252 all-purpose yards.
Also having a big game was Hurricanes' senior Raphael Webb.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound running back finished the afternoon with 19 carries for a game-high 155 yards with two touchdowns. Included in that was an 80-yard scoring jaunt late in the first quarter that saw him break a tackle near the line of scrimmage and then outsprint the entire Rockets' secondary.
"He's a really good player," Cook said. "He runs hard and never gives up on plays. He always keeps his feet moving."
Webb was equally impressed with Central's duo.
"They're awesome," said Webb, an underrated talent who includes Boston College, Rutgers, Minnesota and Utah among his scholarship offers. "I've seen some good backs, but they're a couple of the best. They play hard."
The state long jump champion as a junior, Webb said he most likely will wait until National Signing Day to make a decision, adding track probably won't be part of the equation when he goes to college. He also said Vanderbilt recently reached out to him via Facebook.
The Rockets were 0-1 following a 35-3 nationally televised loss to then-national No. 1 Loganville (Ga.) Grayson and down 19-3 at the half to rival Miami Booker T. Washington when Central coach Telly Lockette let his team know a pride check was in order.
"I told our kids it was do or die," Lockette said. "It was time for them to stand up and show everybody what they could do."
And so, the eventual 6A champs came back to defeat the eventual 4A champs, 37-26.
"We didn't put our heads down," sophomore defensive lineman Fermin Silva said. "We had worked hard since January and knew there was a lot of season in front of us.
"That game really got us going."
Central would go on to lose 44-34 at another national No. 1, Bradenton Manatee, a week later, but then not again, culminating with Saturday's defeat of previously unbeaten GHS.
"I knew everyone who counted us out early was making a mistake," Lockette said. "We played a heckuva schedule, and that paid off for us."
Like Webb, Gainesville senior linebacker Keith Kelsey is among the state's more underrated talents. He finished the title game with a game-high 14 tackles (2.5 of which were for loss).
Kelsey, whose father (also named Keith) played for Florida, said he has scholarship offers from South Carolina, Louisville and USF. He added that the hometown Gators have been looking closely at him lately, but have yet to offer.
The two teams combined for 16 tackles-for-loss in the game (nine by the Hurricanes). ... It won't show up in the stat book, but Miami Central junior cornerback Deatrick Nichols played a heckuva game. He limited Florida wide receiver commitment Chris Thompson to one dubious 40-yard reception (it appeared as if Nichols came down with the ball, and not Thompson, who wrestled it away on the ground). ... Gainesville linebacker Alex Gonzalez finished with 11 tackles 3.5 for loss) and a forced fumble. ... Each of Nadelman's eight kickoffs reached the end zone, thus making them automatic touchbacks. ... Neither team was very good on third down. Central was 1-for-10 on conversion attempts, while Gainesville was 1-for-11.