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Fierce foe outshines Largo, all the rest

With the playoffs under way, the most beguiling question is not if Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas can be beaten, but if it ever could have been beaten.

How about the 2006 Lakeland team that won its third straight Class 5A state title that year? Or the Miami Northwestern team of last season that won the Class 6A state title and a mythical national title?

The matchups can't happen, obviously.

So we're left to reach for the history books and ponder what has been a long, ho-hum season in 5A.

The other teams in the state semifinals have exciting, talented players who probably will land Division I-A scholarships.

But collectively, just call them the Other Three, a terrific group that in a normal season would create an exciting rush toward the state championship game. This season, alas, they seem so far down it must feel like up to them.

That's because St. Thomas Aquinas has risen to such a different, higher plateau that it makes the teams it has played seem mediocre.

The Raiders are 12-0, favored to win their second straight state title and ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today and Rivals.com.

"They're great in every phase of the game," Largo coach Rick Rodriguez said. "There is a reason they're ranked No. 1 in the nation out of 14,000 high schools."

About the only teams St. Thomas Aquinas can compare itself with are ones from its past. After all, the Raiders are seeking their 11th state final appearance, including four straight, and their fourth state title in school history.

This season's team is not too far behind. St. Thomas Aquinas has a little bit of everything.

Quarterback Ryan Becker and linebacker Connor O'Neill are returning all-state players. Receiver Duron Carter is one of the nation's best at his position and the son of former NFL great Cris Carter. And tight end Gabrison Holmes is an imposing target at 6-foot-6.

No matter the outcome Friday night, Largo will have had a highly successful season. How successful depends upon what happens against St. Thomas Aquinas, which has a history of breezing through the playoffs.

The stakes are high, the challenge immense.

A win for the Packers (12-1) will mean a trip to Orlando for next week's state championship game and the satisfaction of knowing this team did something special.

Information from www.aquinas-sta.org was used in this report.

Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas

Established: 1936 School type: Private

Nickname: Raiders School colors: Blue and gold

Students: 2,117 Grades: 9, 10, 11 and 12

Tuition: $8,200 per year ($6,800 for students and families participating and contributing in a Catholic parish)

Famous alumni: Michael Connelly (author), Billy Crudup (actor), Chris Evert (former No. 1-ranked tennis player), Michael Irvin (NFL Hall of Famer), Brian Piccolo (former NFL player); Sanya Richards (Olympic track gold medalist)

Notable: Sports Illustrated recognized the school to have the third-best high school athletic program in 2005. … The girls soccer team won seven straight state titles from 1993 to '99, and was the national champion for four straight years (1995-98). … The girls swimming and diving team won nine straight state titles from 1994 to 2002.

Fierce foe outshines Largo, all the rest 12/10/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 12, 2008 2:33pm]
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