St. Thomas Aquinas is no stranger to success under head football coach Roger Harriott. Under Harriott’s guidance, the Raiders have gone a remarkable 77-9 during his 6 seasons, winning the Class 7A state championship 4 of those 6 years. The two seasons they didn’t win the championship consisted of a 2018 loss in the championship game to Lakeland, and a 2017 semi-final loss to eventual Class 7A champion Venice. During the 2019 season, Harriott led his Raiders to an undefeated season in which they not only won a state championship but a national championship as well (3rd in school history).
During the 2020 season, the Raiders continued their success under Harriott by going 8-1 and winning the Class 7A state championship for the second year in a row. The only loss that they suffered was at the hands of a solid Cardinal Gibbons squad by a score of 17-10.
This year’s team will have a different look to it, as the Raiders lost a lot of key players to graduation. As all great programs do, however, St. Thomas Aquinas will reload and not rebuild. With the help of some key returners that played a big role in the 2020 season, and some new faces that will look to make their mark, look for the Raiders and Coach Harriott to still be a force to be reckoned with in the 2021 campaign.
Offensively last year the Raiders averaged 31.1 points per game, which can be attributed to a well-balanced attack that kept defensive coordinators up at night. Over the course of the 9-game season, they finished with 1,659 rushing yards and 1,122 passing yards.
Returning at quarterback for the Raiders is 2022 Zion Turner (6’1” 191 pounds) who is a dual-threat that currently holds 8 offers from schools such as LSU, Louisville, and Miami. In 2020, Turner had 1,122 passing yards for 9 touchdowns and ran for 206 yards with 7 touchdowns.
Joining Turner in the backfield will be star 2022 running back Anthony Hankerson (5’8” 186 pounds) who is a Darren Sproles type player with his ability to not only mix speed and power but also catch out of the backfield and show his agility. In the 2020 season, Hankerson had a remarkable 2,363 rushing yards over 9 games to go along with 21 rushing touchdowns and 4 receiving touchdowns. Hankerson currently has 17 offers which include Georgia, Florida, and Miami. Another running back for the Raiders to look out for is 2023 Germari Sands (5’11” 187) who will be a solid backup to Hankerson. Sands has offers from Florida and Pitt as of right now.
The receiving core for the Raiders will have a lot of new faces on it as it lost two 4-Star receivers in Vanderbilt signee Quincey Skinner and Mississippi signee Bralon Brown. However, look for the new young players to shine this upcoming fall. 2022 Camden Brown (6’3” 190 pounds) will be a key contributor for this Raider passing attack, Brown has 13 offers from schools including Auburn, Kentucky, and Indiana. 2022 TE Mason Taylor (6’5” 230 pounds) will be the most experienced returner for the Raiders passing game. In the 2020 season, Taylor had 18 receptions for 290 yards. Taylor is a 4-star prospect who has 18 offers from schools such as Arizona, Auburn, and Indiana. Look out for 2024 receivers James Madison II (6’3” 203 pounds) & Chance Robinson (6′ 1” 179 pounds) to have an impact on the Raiders. Madison currently has offers from Penn State, Syracuse, and Miami while Robinson has 6 offers from schools including Georgia, Miami, and Penn State.
Even though the Raider offensive line lost 3-Star Vanderbilt signee Gunnar Hansen at tackle, they will be just fine. This unit will be led by Julian Armella (6’5” 278 pounds) who is the number one tackle in the nation according to Rivals.com and holds 35 offers currently.
If this young receiving core can mature quickly for the Raiders, combined with an already incredible rushing attack led by Hankerson and Armella, then Coach Harriott might have one of the more explosive offenses in the state.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Raiders are losing a lot of talent and will need guys to step up for them in a big way. During the 2020 season, the Raiders defense gave up 13.1 points a game while forcing 24 turnovers. They also averaged 3.1 sacks a game.
The strength of this unit will be its linebacking core which will have a couple of new faces but will have its work cut out for them trying to replace 5-star Dallas Turner (Alabama) and 4-star Jaydon Hood (Michigan). David Vadala (5’10” 215 pounds) is a transfer from American Heritage who during the 2020 season had 78 tackles and 11 sacks. Vadala has offers from Michigan, Texas A&M, Maryland, and Syracuse. Jordan Whitely (6’1” 210 pounds) is another player who transferred (Mosley High School) and will look to make an impact for the Raider front seven. Whitely had 83 tackles in 8 games last year and has offers from Columbia, Florida International, and Florida Atlantic. Derrieon Craig (5’10” 210 pounds) might be one of the more underrated players in the state. Craig just has a natural nose for the football instinct that you can’t teach, and forces turnovers that create momentum. Craig has offers from Syracuse and Arizona.
Look for 2023 Zakaih Saez (6’4” 223 pounds) to anchor a defensive line that is losing star players Tyreak Sapp (Florida) and Allan Baugh (Colorado). Saez is a transfer from The King’s Academy and will be a player that college coaches will love due to his big frame. Saez has 5 offers at the moment from schools including Ole Miss, Florida, and Maryland.
The Raider secondary lost a lot to the 2021 graduating class in players Ja’den McBurrows (Michigan), Tyson Russel (Vanderbilt), and Isaiah Taylor (Arizona). Yet, they still have a lot of talent that’s coming back. King Mack (5’11” 175 pounds) is a 2023 safety that should have a larger role now that more opportunities will arise for him. In the 2020 season, Mack had 17 tackles and was used a lot in packages to blitz off the edge. He has 11 offers from schools including Florida, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, and Penn State. Alongside Mack will be Coastal Carolina commit and 3-star cornerback Jerrod Cameron (5’9” 155 pounds). Cameron had 25 tackles and 2 interceptions last year for the Raiders. Look out for 2023 defensive back Conrad Hussey (5’11” 179 pounds) who will be a young player with a big impact on this team. He has 5 offers including Florida, Ole Miss, and Maryland.
While this defense lost a lot from this past season, look for them to still have a major impact on the game with new faces and players stepping up when they are needed most.
2021 Season Outlook
The Raiders will start their 2021 season at home against St. Frances Academy (MD) on August 28th as they look to continue their dominance in the state of Florida. If they can mature quickly and navigate through a tough schedule that features Plantation (4-2), Cardinal Gibbons (8-1), and Dillard (7-0) then don’t be surprised if we see this Raider squad repeating again as the Class 7A state champions.