Top 25 Preseason Early Contenders - No. 1 St. Thomas Aquinas
View images by photographer Randy Sartin from his preseason photo shoot with the Raiders
When asked what concerns he had about his 2016 St. Thomas Aquinas football team, coach Roger Harriott deliberated for a long time.
"Inexperience in the kicking game," he said.
Translation: "Not many concerns."
And why should there be many? Any? Harriott, in his second season, directs one of the most powerful and efficient program in the nation, one with impressive and indisputable credentials over the last decade and beyond.
* Record over the last 10 seasons: 143-15.
* Overall state championships: Nine, including three 7A titles in the last four years and four in six seasons.
* Number of alumni drafted into the NFL: 25.
* Top 1,000-ranked players from the last 10 years signed to Division I-FBS scholarships: 50.
MaxPreps tracked 15 of the top programs throughout the country to see how many top-1,000 recruits it sent off to FBS programs. Other than STA, no other school had more than 29.
Among their stars over the years: No. 2 2016 NFL Draft pick Joey Bosa, Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner, Bengals running back Giovani Bernard and Tampa Bays Buccaneers safety Major Wright.
So, with another juggernaut in the works that includes 11 Top 1,000 recruits from the Class of 2017 — that number figures to grow with an influx of late transfers as of July 1 — picking the Raiders No. 1 in the 2016 MaxPreps Early Contenders definitely wasn't a reach.
Harriott said the top billing and "X" on the Raiders' back doesn't bother them. In fact, they embrace it.See the St. Thomas Aquinas Early Contenders photo shoot
"The national rankings has been a positive source of interest for us," he said. "We're humbly grateful to have an opportunity to compete for the No. 1 spot. It's a healthy aspiration for our team to work toward."
This team definitely has a healthy dose of talent.
The Raiders have traditionally been balanced offensively and with all their weapons, this season should be no different.
The leader of the offense is Florida commit Jake Allen
, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior who is ranked the 11th-best pro-style quarterback in the country by 247Sports.
In 10 games last season, Allen completed 130 of 205 passes for 1,691 yards and 18 touchdowns.
"Jake Allen is a poised field general with supreme leadership qualifies," Harriott said. "He's a well-rounded scholar athlete with strong spiritual convictions. His teammates and classmates look to him as a peer role model." Trevon Grimes
(6-3, 202), the fifth-ranked senior receiver in the country, looks for Allen to just get him the ball. Grimes had 27 catches for 496 yards and seven scores last year. Those numbers could double in 2016.
"God has blessed Trevon Grimes with superior athleticism, size, speed, hand-eye ball skills and charisma," Harriott said. "His competitive nature, confidence and work ethic are extraordinary. That makes him a special player and person."
If Grimes isn't open, West Virginia commit Mike Harley
and Syracuse-bound Joshua Palmer
likely will be.
Allen will also have the option to hand off to at least a couple future college running backs, led by Cincinnati-bound Jordan Merrell
(5-10, 180) and Kyshaun Bryan
, a 5-10, 190-pounder headed to South Carolina. The offensive line is led by guard/tackle Cody Bowes
(6-4, 280), another West Virginia commit.
The defense should be stout, led by linebackers Tyler Dunning
, Nik Bonitto
and Drew White
. Dunning (6-0, 230), ranked the 22nd-top inside linebacker in the country, has committed to Mississippi State. Harriott said Dunning can play anywhere along the front seven in college.
"He's that talented and versatile," he said. "College coaches have labeled him a hybrid player because of his size, strength, athleticism and football IQ. He's really admired by his teammates for his genuine sense of integrity and humility."
Other college-bound defenders including lineman Kivon Bennett
and Kedonis Haslem
and junior cornerbacks Asante Samuel
and Al Blades Jr
. The latter two have combined for 52 college offers and are both sons of former NFL players.
With so many top recruits, Harriott was especially busy accommodating college coaches and preparing his squad at the same time during the spring.
"We had an extremely productive offseason," he said. "Our players worked as interdependent units with great effort, authentic enthusiasm, confidence and brotherly love for each other."
They'll need all that togetherness to battle regular south Florida powers such as No. 34 Booker T. Washington (Miami), Deerfield Beach and Flanagan (Pembroke Pines).
Everyone, however, has circled a Sept. 30 date at No. 3 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), perhaps the national game of the year that will be broadcast on ESPN.
"Bishop Gorman is an extraordinary program," said Harriott, who was grateful to be playing on national TV. "Cross-state games have proven to be invaluable experience for teams, school members and families as a whole."