Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Northwestern Crowned National Champs By USA Today

They're the best high school football team Dade County has arguably ever produced and now they're officially the best in the nation. Congratulations to head coach Billy Rolle and the Miami Northwestern Bulls. USA Today officially named Northwestern its national champion after capping off a perfect 15-0 season and a second consecutive Class 6A state title. The Bulls become the first team from South Florida to win USA Today's title since the paper began its national high school football poll in 1982. Northwestern also becomes the third team from Florida to win the national championship, joining the 1988 Pensacola Pine Forest Eagles and the 2005 Lakeland Dreadnaughts.

But the Bulls were not the only Miami-Dade County school ranked in USA Today's Top 25. Booker T. Washington High School in Overtown finished 8th in the nation. Both teams won the state titles in their respective classifications. Two weeks ago, Northwestern crushed Orlando's Boone High School 41-0 in the Class 6A championship game, while Booker T. Washington beat Ponte Vedra Nease in the 4A title game. Broward's St. Thomas Aquinas won the 5A championship beating Kissimmee's Osceola High School. It was truly a year to remember for South Florida high school football.

How good is Northwestern? The Bulls have won 30 consecutive games dating back to 2005. Nineteen seniors are expected to attend college on football scholarships next year and 30 players on the roster are considered legitimate college prospects. Six Northwestern players have already verbally committed to attend the University of Miami. They include quarterback Jacory Harris, who set virtually every passing record in Dade County history. Harris threw 49 touchdown passes this season and had a great trio of receivers including Aldarius Johnson, Kendal Thompkins and Tommy Streeter. Johnson and Thompkins will join Harris at UM, while Streeter remains undecided on his college choice. Offensive lineman Brandon Washington, defensive tackle Marcus Forston and linebacker Sean Spence will also attend UM.

While few followers of South Florida high school football are surprised by Northwestern's championship season. It almost never happened. Miami-Dade School Superintendent Rudy Crew nearly cancelled Northwestern's season in the wake of a coverup of a sex scandal involving former player Antwain Easterling.

Former school principal Dwight Bernard along with head coach Roland Smith were fired after they failed to report Easterling to the police for having sex in the school bathroom with a 14 year old student. Easterling was 18 years old at the time. Not only did the they fail report the crime, Bernard and Smith gave Easterling permission to play in last year's state championship game. Easterling rushed for over 100 yards and a touchdown to help the Bulls win last year's 6A title.

In the wake of the scandal, Billy Rolle and new princicpal Charles Hankerson were brought in to clean up the program. So far, so good. Rolle had coached Northwestern from 1997 to 2000 and led the Bulls to the state title in 1998. He also coached at Killian High from 2001 to 2006 and won a state title in 2004. Under Hankerson, Northwestern's enrollment has improved dramatically with 90 percent attendance. But the Liberty City school continues to face the unique challenges most inner city schools continue to struggle with. Northwestern is located across the street from the infamous Pork and Beans housing project--one of the poorest and most economically depressed areas in Miami. The students at Northwestern overcome obstacles just to graduate from school. They're surrounded by gangs, drugs, violence and poverty. Hankerson became Northwestern's fourth principal in just the last two years.

Despite all the obstacles, Northwestern is seen as a beacon of hope in Liberty City. Football has always given the school a unique sense of pride. Northwestern has won 4 state championships. But for the first time, the Bulls can say they're the best in the nation. It's a crown all of Liberty City and the Northwestern community will wear proudly.

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