When South Florida’s most talented football players want to compete at the highest level there’s no better place to experience that than St. Thomas Aquinas High School (Fort Lauderdale), where the Raiders have won 10 Florida State titles and two USA Today national championships.
After winning the 2016 7A Florida state championship at 13-2, the Raiders finished fifth in the USA Today’s High School Top 25.
For outside linebacker D’Andre Ragin, who was named first-team Miami Herald All-Dade County and second-team FloridaHSFootball.com 4A all-state after 75 tackles and six sacks last season at Monsignor Pace High School (Miami), it was the promise of greater competition that led to his transfer to St. Thomas Aquinas.
”The competition is just way different and I feel like it’s the best opportunity for me to go to the next level,” Ragin says.
St. Thomas Aquinas has a tremendous 2017 schedule, including games against St. John Bosco (Bellflower, CA), defending CIF Open Division Bowl Champions and USA Today’s #6 2016 national high school ranking, and 5A Arizona state championship runner-up Centennial High School (Peoria, AZ).
As Ragin shares, the Raiders won’t obsess over any given opponent, regardless of their relative status, more so than they prioritize their own performance.
”We don’t focus on our competition,” says Ragin. “We understand that it’s about what we do. It doesn’t matter who we play against, if we bring our ‘A’ game I like our chances against anybody.”
Ragin also has the unusual and incredible benefit of learning from new St. Thomas Aquinas defensive assistant coach and recent NFL Hall of Fame inductee Jason Taylor, who played 13 seasons for the Miami Dolphins.
”I try to get with him as much as I can, because I don’t think there’s anyone who can teach me better than him,” Ragin said. “The thing he really focuses on is technique; I thought I had it all figured out but he really broke down my game, and fixed basic things in my game - just polishing up basic techniques.”
Scout currently ranks Ragin as 2018’s 89th top outside linebacker nationally, ninth in Florida, and he has 17 scholarship offers, including one from Appalachian State where he made an unofficial visit on June 8th.
”I wanted to find out how interested they are in me and just simple things – what kind of defense they run, where I fit in their scheme,” Ragin says. “I feel like they answered those questions.”
Ragin spent most of the visit with Mountaineer Defensive Coordinator & Outside Linebacker Coach Nate Woody, discussing App State’s Sun Belt-leading defensive scheme.
”They run a 3-4 (defense), so I would play outside (line) backer in their scheme. He feels that I’m athletic enough with my length to do what they normally do,” Ragin says of his discussion with Woody. “When you’re playing outside backer you’re going to rush sometimes, you’re going to be in coverage sometimes, and sometimes you’re going to man-up (one-on-one pass coverage).
”He feels like I can handle that.”
Yet, Ragin had new experiences even before he reached App State’s campus, not the least of which was the 3,324-foot elevation difference from home.
“I’ve never traveled like that, it was my first time on a plane. So, when I got there - it’s beautiful, don’t get me wrong - but, I was shocked. My dad and I were driving really slowly, at first,” said Ragin, also laughing.
”At App State the focus is on getting a degree and performing on the field, which are my two focuses, really.
”I don’t know how to explain it, but on campus I just felt comfortable. Everything looked awesome, everything looked new and cool. I felt comfortable there and feel like I could get comfortable pretty quickly, if I went up there.“
Ragin’s summer plans include additional campus visits and a specific physical enhancement.
”I’m just focused on getting my weight up for the season, about 230-235,” says Ragin, who’s currently at 222. “Doing some college visits, not a lot of camps but visits.
Ragin has very general timing in mind for making his commitment, but only once he’s found his best match.
”I would like it to be before the season, but I don’t have a specific timeline,” Ragin said. “It doesn’t matter where I go, as long as it’s a good fit for me.”
Regardless of future visits and experiences Ragin expects App State to factor into his decision.
”App is definitely up there, just from the interest standpoint and just being wanted,” Ragin concludes. “They’re definitely up there.”
Ragin’s transition to St. Thomas Aquinas will officially kick off when the Raiders host St. John Bosco on August 25th.