At first glance, DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) and Miami (Fla.) Central wouldn’t seem to have a lot in common. DeMatha is a private, relatively pricey (tuition is $16,400 a year) school that doesn’t play for a state title in football but has won the past two Washington Catholic Athletic Conference titles. Miami Central is a public school where 65% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price student lunches and the Rockets have won three consecutive 6A state titles in football.
But DeMatha coach Elijah Brooks and Miami Central’s Roland Smith found common ground on one point. Outside of their conference and regions, they had a hard time finding opponents. That’s the biggest reason why Miami Central, the No. 2 team in the Super 25 football rankings, will travel 1,058 miles to play No. 5 DeMatha on Saturday afternoon, with the game televised by ESPNU.
“We are both Nike schools and Coach Smith and I had gone out to Oregon for the Nike Coaches Summit over the winter and were looking for games,” Brooks said. “We found out we had the same open dates. We thought, heck, this would be a great matchup. I don’t think we even knew the hype that this game would bring.”
With six players already committed to FBS schools and three uncommitted four-star athletes, this may be DeMatha’s best team ever. While the Stags have taken on good out-of-state opponents in recent years, including a game with AAA state champion Archbishop Wood (Warminster, Pa.) last season and Non-Public Group 3 state champion St. Joseph Regional (Montvale, N.J.), Virginia power Phoebus (Hampton, Va.) and Florida power Godby (Tallahassee) in 2013, the Stags haven’t played a team as highly ranked as Miami Central in recent years. The game, played in Landover, Md., will be the Stags’ season-opener.
“For us, it’s extremely difficult to find out of conference games of substance,” Brooks said. “You are forced to play guys who are highly successful,” Brooks said. “I can’t think of a game this big for us in recent history. I don’t think Godby and Miami Central are in the same class. It’s rare to find a team with this combination of size, speed and substance. We understand what is ahead of us. We’ve done well regionally. This is going to test our program on a national stage.”
Miami Central, which beat Royal Palm Beach 48-6 in a preseason game last week, also has six FBS commits and its share of elite uncommitted recruits. Smith said DeMatha reminds him of a familiar team — the Rockets.
“They like to run the ball and beat you physically up front and so do we,” Smith said. “We also worked together coaching this summer at The Opening and some of our players and his players were there. There’s a lot of respect for each other’s program. I was fortunate that Coach Brooks wanted to play us and give us the opportunity. My kids are used to being in high-level games. They’ve been in the program for three or four years and have won state championships. We treat every game like it’s a national championship.”
One bonus for both teams is regardless of the outcome, they have a chance to remain in the rankings because of the difficulty of the rest of their schedule.
Miami Central plays host to state 8A quarterfinalist First Coast (Jacksonville) on Sept. 12 and on Sept. 26, plays reigning 4A state champion Booker T. Washington (Miami), a team that has given Central its only losses the past two seasons.
Next Saturday, DeMatha travels to reigning 5A champion American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.), which is ranked No. 18 after knocking off then-No. 2 IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) last week in a preseason game. On Sept. 18, the Stags play host to La Salle (Wyndmoor, Pa.), which won five consecutive Philadelphia Catholic League titles from 2008 to 2012.
“If we’re successful this week, we still have to play a really good team next week,” Brooks said. “It’s just one of those things. If you play a national schedule. You don’t have time to breath.”