Before he started talking about the Hurricanes' home game Saturday with Florida, former University of Miami player Chad Wilson asked the listeners on his Internet talk radio program, The Gridiron Studs Show, to call in with their opinions about this week's high school matchup between Booker T. Washington (Miami) and Miami Central.
Even Miami coach Al Golden, presumably concerned more about the Gators coming to Miami this week, commented on the game pitting BTW and Central, the No. 1 and No. 5 teams, respectively, in the Super 25 high school football rankings.
"This is what high school football is all about," said BTW coach Tim "Ice" Harris. "The kids are all excited. The winner will have a shot at a national championship."
Central coach Roland Smith, in his first year back in coaching after a six-year hiatus, said, "I'm very excited about this game. So are the players. They play against each other growing up and both teams have circled this game on their calendar. It's going to be an exciting time."
Booker T. Washington, the defending state 4A champion, is 1-0 after defeating then-No. 6 Norcross 55-0 two weeks ago. Central, the defending state 6A champion, is also 1-0 after defeating American Heritage (Plantation) last week.
There's plenty of talent on both teams. Miami Central has eight players who have made commitments to Division I schools, led by running backs Joseph Yearby, who has committed to Miami, and Dalvin Cook, who says he plans to sign with Florida. The Tornadoes have seven players who have already committed to Division I teams, led by defensive end Chad Thomas, who has said he plans to sign with Miami and quarterback Treon Harris, son of the coach, who said he plans to sign with Florida State.
In the teams' meeting last season, Booker T. Washington took a 19-3 halftime lead only to watch Central, after switching to a Wildcat offense utilizing Yearby and Cook, come back for a 37-26 win. It was the Tornadoes' only defeat.
"We just have to hope we can get in that position again and rely on our players to finish this time," Harris said. "We hope the guys who were in this position last year learned from that experience."
Though it's obviously a rivalry, it's a friendly one borne of the many connections between the schools, located in two of the city's economically depressed neighborhoods.
Friday's game will take place at Traz-Powell Stadium, which is 2 miles northwest of Miami Central High School. Booker T. Washington High School is located 6 miles south of Central. (Google Maps)
Harris was an assistant to Smith when both were at Miami Northwestern and the two ate together on Tuesday at the Dolphins Touchdown Club luncheon. Many of the players competed alongside or against each other in Pop Warner games. The Overtown Rattlers, who won the 2010 Pop Warner national championship, included 16 players now with Booker T. Washington and two with Miami Central.
"It all stems from a lot of youth football in the area," said Emanuel Washington Sr., the executive director of the Overtown Community Optimist Club. "It's a big, friendly rivalry, like a family relationship. At the end of the day, it's a football game and they will be playing for bragging rights."
With several other rankings services listing either Booker T. Washington or Central as the No. 1 team in the country, it might seem like a battle for the national championship, except that both have other difficult games ahead.
On Sept. 21, Central plays at Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.), which won the 2009 national title, and finishes the regular season with University (Fort Lauderdale), which is ranked No. 25. Booker T. Washington flies to Las Vegas for an Oct. 4 game with four-time Nevada 4A state champion Bishop Gorman and faces a likely meeting with powerful Armwood (Seffner) in the state 4A playoffs.
Kickoff tonight is at 7:30 at Traz-Powell Stadium on the campus of Miami-Dade College.