FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Sam Bruce’s voice is so deep, he could be a stand-in for James Earl Jones.
Just don’t ask Bruce to sing.
“I clear the room,” he said with a laugh.
Bruce’s voice serves as a fine metaphor for the football team at St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), which last year won its eighth state title since 1992 and its third in the past five years.
The Raiders are deep at almost every position, including wide receiver, where Bruce, a 5-9, 180-pound rising senior, leads the way. He scored eight touchdowns last season and has been committed to the Miami Hurricanes since July 2014.
Aquinas also has two other star receivers: Trevon Grimes, a 6-4, 200-pound rising junior with more than dozen scholarship offers, and Michael Irvin II, a 6-2, 215-pound rising senior with offers from Miami, Michigan, North Carolina State and others.
Irvin scored 34 career touchdowns at his previous school, Prestonwood Christian (Plano, Texas).
“It will work out fine,” Bruce said. “This team is so perfect right now.”
If Bruce’s name is familiar when it comes to the receiver position, it might be because his uncle Issac was a four-time Pro Bowl receiver and has his No. 80 retired by the St. Louis Rams. Irvin’s father, Michael, was a five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver with the Dallas Cowboys and a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
They are not alone among the relatives of professional athletes on the Aquinas roster.
The Raiders’ best overall player is Nick Bosa, a 6-4, 265-pound rising senior defensive end who last year had 29 tackles for losses, including five sacks. His father is former defensive lineman John Bosa, an NFL first-round pick in 1987 (No. 16 overall) by the Miami Dolphins.
New to the team is lineman Kedonis Haslem, a rising junior who will likely begin the season as a backup. He is the son of Udonis Haslem, an NBA forward for the Miami Heat. A transfer from Miami’s Dade Christian, Kedonis does not play basketball, by the way.
“Genetics is an interesting phenomenon,” new coach Roger Harriott says. “Kedonis has the potential to be a great lineman on either side of the ball and when it comes to hand-eye coordination, Michael (Irvin II) has the same attributes as his dad.”
Harriott, 38, an Aquinas alumnus spent the past year as a running backs coach at Florida Atlantic University.
Just Aquinas’ fifth coach since 1971, Harriott inherits superior talent from a team that went 14-1 last season and will start the 2015 campaign on a 13-game win streak. However, the Raiders graduated 17 seniors from last season who signed to play college football. Some of that loss has been made up for with an influx of transfers.
Among them is 6-3 quarterback Jake Allen, a rising junior who transferred in from Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons and won the job this spring. A four-star, pro-style quarterback, Allen committed to Florida on Wednesday, selecting the Gators over his dozen-other scholarship offers.
“This is a chance of a lifetime,” said Harriott, who went 78-15 as a high school head coach, leading University (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) to a Class 3A state title in 2012. “I’m looking forward to doing great things.”
It would be a great thing for Aquinas if it were to beat Miami’s Booker T. Washington when the two powers collide on Aug. 28 in a nationally televised game. BTW, which has won 41 consecutive games and three Class 4A state titles in a row, beat Harriott 45-17 in the 2013 Class 4a regional final, his final game as University’s coach.
Power on defense
Amazingly, Aquinas allowed double figures last season to only one team in a 20-12 victory against Miramar in late September. The Raiders had seven shutouts, including in the state title game against Osceola, which managed a total of 38 yards.
The unquestioned star of that defense is Bosa, who is ranked No. 2 overall in the Class of 2017 by Scout.com and No. 3 by ESPN.com.
Nick’s brother is 6-5, 280-pound defensive lineman Joey Bosa, who was a freshman starter at Ohio State in 2013 and a first-team All-American and a national champion as a sophomore. He is expected to apply for the NFL Draft after the 2015 season and is a projected top-five pick.
Joey and Nick’s uncle is Eric Kumerow, a 6-7, 265-pounder who was also the No. 16 pick in the NFL Draft, one year after John Bosa. Kumerow was also picked by the Dolphins.
John Bosa said he is “not surprised” his sons became football players.
“Their mom and I exposed them to soccer, baseball and a lot of different sports when they were little,” he said. “We wanted to let them find their passion.
“But when they put pads on for the first time, I looked at them and thought: ‘Oh my God – they just look like football players’.”
He was right, and there’s a good chance Nick will follow Joey and uncle Eric to Ohio State. Nick is also considering Florida, Notre Dame and Florida State.
The Aquinas way
John Bosa said the biggest reason Aquinas is a great place for his sons and the other boys on the team is the leadership of George Smith, who stepped down as football coach after the 2010 season but remains as the school’s athletic director.
As coach, Smith led the Raiders to six state titles and two mythical national championships in 2008 and 2010.
“It doesn’t matter if your son is being recruited by Ohio State or Morehead State, George is always going to do what’s best for the kid,” Bosa said. “He works just as hard to place Division III kids as he does D I and he’s been doing that for 30 years.
“George is a wonderful man. In South Florida, it can be challenging to find a good sports school where academics are also pushed, and there is no special treatment. But that’s what we found at Aquinas.”
Bosa said some people assumed he knew about the current recruiting process just because he was a pro athlete. But a lot has changed since John was a high school athlete.
“When Joey was being recruited, I was no more knowledgeable than any other parent,” he said. “It was great to have George to lean on for advice.
“You can’t visit every school. George helped us narrow it down. For us, we focused on the defensive line coach, the strength and conditioning coach and the head coach – in that order. They make the biggest impact (on Joey and Nick).”
Harriott, who played for Smith as a sophomore running back on Aquinas’ first state-title team in 1992, remembers forcing a fumble on the second-half kickoff, leading to a touchdown drive and a 24-9 championship game win over Tallahassee Leon.
“Coming full circle is an understatement,” Harriott said of his return to Aquinas. “I would classify it as divine fate. I’ve known Coach Smith since my early elementary years, and I’ve had admiration for him for as long as I can remember.
“He is – and always will be – the legacy of St. Thomas Aquinas football.”