2. IMG Academy
Location: Bradenton, Fla.
2016 record: 11-0
2016 Super 25 Final ranking: No. 2
The Ascenders usually have to rebuild every year, but have several key players back, particularly on defense and the usual mix of strong transfers. They’ll need all that talent with a schedule that includes four state champions.
DB Houston Griffith, LB Mike Jones (a Clemson commit), DT Taron Vincent (Ohio State commit) and DL TK Chimedza, a Georgia Tech commit, are the top returnees from a defense that allowed only 9.5 points a game last season. Key newcomers include the top DL 2018 recruit in the country in senior DE Xavier Thomas, a transfer from Wilson (Florence, S.C.) who is headed to Clemson, and junior DL Nolan Smith II, a Georgia commit who transferred from Calvary Day (Savannah, Ga.).
The top players back on offense include junior RB Trey Sanders (9.6 yards per carry), an Alabama commit, senior WR Brian Hightower, a Miami commit who averaged 28 yards a catch, senior OL Curtis Dunlap Jr. and junior OL Evan Neal. Quarterback Zack Annexstad also returns, but is going to have to fight for the starting spot with senior transfer Art Sitkowski, a Miami commit who led Old Bridge (Matawan, N.J.) to its state semifinals last year while throwing for 1,216 yards and six TDs and running for eight TDs. The Ascenders landed two key running back transfers. Senior T.J. Pledger, an Oklahoma commit, ran for 1,881 yards and 10 TDs and averaged 11 yards a catch last season at Chaminade (West Hills, Calif.). Junior Noah Cain ran for 1,683 and 22 TDs last season at Guyer (Denton, Texas). Another key newcomer is DB Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles, a Nebraska commit who is a transfer from Calabasas, Calif.
8/18 Carol City (Miami Gardens)*
8/26 at Chandler, Ariz.
9/2 vs. Centennial (Corona) at San Diego
9/8 vs. St. Frances (Baltimore
9/15 vs. St. John’s (Washington, D.C.)
9/22 vs. Miami Central (Miami)
9/30 vs. Miami Northwestern (Miami)
10/6 at Venice
10/20 at East (Salt Lake City)
11/3 at Hoover, Ala.
11/11 vs. Bishop Sullivan (Virginia Beach)