Commentary

Rolle reloads Miami Northwestern for another title run

Originally Published: May 17, 2008
By Christopher Lawlor | ESPN.com

Todd ChandlerTom Hauck for ESPN.comRising junior Todd Chandler (right) anchors the defensive line for reigning No. 1 Miami Northwestern.
MIAMI -- Tyresse Jones, the sinewy running back from Miami Northwestern High, was pondering his future Friday.

He was concerned for the dearth of college interest when coach Billy Rolle emerged from the office.

"Here you go," said Rolle, tossing a bundle of mail with nearly 50 college pitch letters and offers. "Now you have choices, Tyresse."

With that the torch was passed.

Jones felt like a hot prospect, knowing he'll have multiple college choices.

"It feels good," said Jones, while smiling. "I didn't know where I stood (with colleges)."

He does now and it hammers home the obvious: At talent-rich Miami Northwestern, the Bulls never rebuild, they reload, as several players are on the wish list of most BCS schools.

Jones, a rising senior, is one of eight returning starters for the Bulls, who finished top-ranked in the ESPN HIGH Elite 25 football rankings in 2007. He rushed for 527 yards and six touchdowns, but will have an expanded role when the season kicks off on Sept. 5 against Carol City (Opa-Locka).

The spring practice sessions -- Florida schools are allowed 15 in May -- came at an opportune time for the Bulls.

The first week was capped Friday amidst steamy, hot temperatures with a controlled 30-play scrimmage. This was the first live action since Dec. 15 when the Bulls trounced Boone (Orlando) 41-0 to win their second straight Class 6A state championship and fourth overall since 1995.

"It's back to work," Rolle said. "We'll emphasize the fundamentals like blocking and tackling. Time to knock the rust off and brush up on a few things; we have two more weeks after this."

Excuse Rolle if he laments the graduation of 18 seniors who signed with colleges, including eight with the University of Miami.

Instead he wrings his hands as the 2008 season kicked off this week.

Northwestern concludes the spring with a jamboree game against North Miami Beach on May 30 at Traz Powell Stadium.

"It's time for us to step up," said Jones, an ESPN 150 Watch List player. "There are doubters out there expecting us to lose this year because lost so many seniors. But that's not the way we look at it; we have a lot of young, hungry players all competing for positions."

Jones and Daquan Hargrett, who ran for eight TDs and a team-leading 605 yards on 82 carries in 2007, form a diminutive one-two running punch while Wayne Times (5-10, 170 pounds) will be the quarterback, solidifying the backfield. Center Shavin Wright is the lone returning starter along the offensive line.

"We have three solid running backs and three others were reassigned new positions just to get them on the field," Rolle said. "Players come into the spring trying out for any position but the coaches will make the final call."

Expect Times, a triple threat, to bring a new dimension to the Bulls. Jacory Harris, a 6-4 quarterback who enrolled at Miami in January, was pass-oriented, throwing for 3,445 yards and 49 TDs in 2007.

"Times is an athlete," Rolle said. "We'll do some different things this year, mainly establishing the run."

Northwestern, which completed a wire-to-wire finish atop the Elite 25 rankings, recorded its second straight 15-0 season, winning the nation's most difficult high school football tournament. The Bulls enter the season carrying a 30-game win streak, the longest current streak in Florida. The Greater Miami Athletic Conference features powers such as Miami Central, Booker T. Washington and Miami Southridge.

Last season, Rolle (112-29 record in 10 years) inherited a loaded squad with 26 returning seniors in July and knew better than to tinker with it. He won his third Class 6A state championship in his second stint with the Bulls. Rolle previously won a 6A title with Northwestern in 1998 and his second with Killian (Miami) in 2004.

Rolle righted the ship when the entire Northwestern coaching staff was let go in the aftermath of a sex scandal involving a former player and underage female student.

Instead of wilting, the Bulls pulled together, combining a quick-strike offense and stingy defense which had five shutouts.

The 4-3, ball-hawking defense is bolstered by cornerback Khalid Marshall (5-9, 165), nose tackle Todd Chandler (6-0, 280), safety Tevin McKaskill (6-2, 180) and end Wade Tolbert (6-2, 230). McKaskill is on the ESPN 150 Watch List.

Talent and depth are hallmarks for the Bulls.

"We always have the players but the spring is like a stepping stone," said Chandler, who favors Miami and Florida from a slew of suitors. "We ultimately want to win another state championship. This is the first step."

Rising junior Corvin Lamb, a converted slot back, is learning the position and already receiving recruiting correspondence. Lamb, who ran a 4.31 40-yard dash at the Underclassman Camp in February in Boca Raton, recently flashed that speed at the Class 4A state track meet.

Lamb, along with three football players, teamed to win the 4x400 meter relay. He took second in the 400 (47.96 seconds) and sixth in the 200 (21.97). Jones and Hargrett were two of the four legs on the third-place 4x100 relay.

"The bar is set high every year," said Corvin, who rushed for 338 yards and four scores as a sophomore. "It's our job to (during spring practice) to get them ready for the season and winning another title. That's what we expect around here."

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also for worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y. and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.

Christopher Lawlor

High School Basketball
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years.

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