Last year, both Curtis and St. Paul's were victorious in the event's debut. The Patriots, who went on to a 14-0 season and the 2A state championship, defeated Westgate in game one of the 2011 doubleheader, and St. Paul's edged Acadiana (15-14) in the nightcap.
This year, the Prep Classic has expanded its reach to include two high-profile programs from outside the confines of Louisiana: Plant HS of Tampa (FL) and James F. Byrnes HS (Duncan, SC).
Both Plant (No. 14) and Byrnes (No. 28) were ranked in the final edition of the 2011 Scout Top 50, which is compiled by Director of Scouting Scott Kennedy. Plant went 14-1 and won the Class 8A state title in Florida. Byrnes posted a 13-2 mark and avenged one of its two regular-season losses by handing Gaffney its first loss in the South Carolina Class 4A Division I state title contest.
Looking at the Louisiana teams, John Curtis is coming off a perfect, undefeated season. The Patriots never gained entry into the Scout Top 50 last year, but Curtis should field one of the nation's better teams in both 2012 and 2013.
St. Paul's made its way into the Scout Top 50 near the end of the '11 regular season. The Wolves, who haven't lost a regular-season game since early 2009, marched into the '11 playoffs with a gaudy 10-0 record and the No. 1 in the 32-team 5A bracket.
Surprisingly, St. Paul's season came to a unceremonious end in the first round vs. 32nd-seeded Central High (more to come on the Plant vs. St. Paul's game in the near future).
John Curtis and Byrnes are polar opposites on offense. The Patriots utilize the split-back veer option for almost all of their snaps, although head coach J.T. Curtis, Jr., does have a spread package that he'll occasionally unveil. Byrnes, on the other hand, loves to throw the football and the Rebels have a '14 QB, Shuler Bentley (6-1, 180), who passed for almost 3,500 yards last year.
Bentley completed nearly 65% of his passes for 3,495 yards, 47 touchdowns, and only seven interceptions. He tossed six touchdowns in a couple of games and connected on at least one scoring strike in every game. The sophomore signal-caller doesn't keep the ball and run often (minus-37 yards in 2011 with two TDs).
Byrnes has several good receivers and the leader from last year, '13 WR Akia Booker, will try to better his excellent junior numbers. Booker hauled in 80 catches for 1,284 yards and 21 TDs. He had a season-high eight catches (for 158 yards and two TDs) in Byrnes' 73-0 shutout of Riverside (Greer, SC) in week three. Booker also set a school record with five touchdown receptions vs. Rock Hill.
Booker is joined by promising '15 WR Tavin Richardson, who is already in the 6-4, 195-pound range as a ninth-grader. Richardson was third on the team in number of catches (26-430, four TDs). More receiving depth is available with '13 prospects Evan Sudduth (19-279, two TDs) and 6-foot-2 Trey Barron (2-17). Another junior, Bryan Bailey, is another gifted athlete who can play WR or QB. If Bentley, the starting QB, got sidelined by an injury, the Rebels have a reliable backup in Bailey (17-of-25 passing, 245 yards, 3 TDs in '11).
The Rebels have to find a replacement for hard-charging senior RB Shakeem Wharton (237 carries, 1,250 yards, 18 TDs). His back-up also graduates, so the Rebels have a question mark at the running back position. In fact, the leading returning rusher is wide receiver Booker (11 attempts, 49 yards).
The Byrnes coaching staff knows how to move the football. The Rebels averaged 44.8 points per game in 2011 and scored at least 56 points in eight games.
On defense, many of Byrnes' best players on the front seven will graduate within the next few weeks. It appears that the Rebels' strength on that side of the ball lies in the secondary, where CB Shane Samuels lurks (7 interceptions). Samuels is a dynamic player in the 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-9 range who knows what to do once he gets his hands on the pigskin (averaged 28 yards per interception return).
The Rebels picked off 19 passes last year with Samuels and D.J. Henderson (4 INT) accounting for over half (11) of that total.
John Curtis loses a few big names to graduation, including TE Dillon Gordon (LSU), DE Torrey Bell (Mississippi State) and underrated DT Chris Lorden (Nicholls State), but the Patriots have the bulk of their starters returning.
Curtis' depth is staggering.
Let's start with the Patriots' running game. The top six rushers are all holdovers from last year's team, which rolled up more than 4,400 yards on the ground.
RB Sherman Badie, a 5-11, 190-pound junior, led the group with 1,239 yards on 87 carries (14.24 yards per carry) with 19 TDs. He has offers from the likes of Tulane, Memphis and North Texas. Another junior, Tevin Horton, gained 765 yards and was named First-Team All-Combine by Fox Sports/Scout.com at the U.S. Army Junior Combine held in San Antonio a few months ago.
Badie and Horton split their duties with the sophomore tandem of Raekwon James (761 yards, nine TDs) and George Moreira (379 yards, four TDs). James was the MVP of the state championship game. He's a quick back in the 5-foot-9, 175-pound range, while Moreira (5-9, 195) is a bullish runner who doesn't sacrifice any speed for power.
Moreira was named RB MVP at the National Underclassmen Combine 5-Star Showcase held on March 24 in Baton Rouge.
The Patriots basically have a pair of returning starters at quarterback. First, you have Patrick Morton, who will be a senior. Morton played the first five games before missing the remainder of the season due to injury. He was having a brilliant season (367 yards rushing, 7 TDs, and 16-of-25 passing for 249 yards and no interceptions).
Once Morton was sidelined, the Patriots turned to freshman QB Abby Touzet, and he responded with a tremendous effort. Touzet (6-1, 210) has the potential to become a better all-around QB than most of the great Curtis quarterbacks that came before him. The frosh was accurate on 41-of-71 attempts for 785 yards and five touchdowns, and he rushed for 372 yards and 11 more scores.
Morton, now healthy, will be the starter, according to Patriots head coach J.T. Curtis, Jr., who added that Touzet has proven himself and will continue to get reps.
On the offensive line, Curtis has a pair of future college players in Brandon Godfrey (6-4, 280, Jr.) and Anthony Taylor (6-7, 335, Jr.). Godfrey, who has moved around from center to tackle during his career, has a Tulane offer. Taylor moves surprisingly well for a big man and could be a real gem for the college that signs him.
Although Curtis' offensive philosophy will always be predicated on running the option, the Patriots have a deep threat at WR in '14 prospect Malachi Dupre.
Dupre stars in multiple sports, and has the size and speed to toast corners in one-on-one coverage. He put on a show this week at the state track meet and could be the best WR to ever come out of Curtis. Another sophomore receiver -- 6-1, 170-pound Henry Smith -- is another player to watch.
The Patriots are always rugged on defense, and this year's group is no exception. Three-star LB Duke Riley (TCU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss offers, among others) led the team in tackles each of the past two seasons. He's joined on the inside by '13 backer Eric Thomas (5-9, 230), who had four sacks in the semis vs. Evangel Christian.
Up front, look for DL Cyle Cortez (6-2, 260, Jr.) to have another great season. He had 79 stops and eight sacks in '11, including 12 tackles in last year's Sugar Bowl Prep Classic. At OLB/DE, the Patriots feature Fred Beauford (6-1, 215, Jr.), who benched 425 pounds at the school's recent lift-a-thon.
'14 LB Kenny Young (6-2, 205) is oozing with potential. Young's sophomore campaign came to an early halt due to an injury he incurred in the playoffs versus Ville Platte, but all signs indicate Young stepping back into the fold with a clean bill of health. He can play inside or outside.
Junior Brandon Porter is possibly the most intriguing Curtis player. Porter has nice speed. He has played a vital role in Curtis winning three straight state championships in outdoor track and field (and the last two in indoor track, as well). He's in the 5-11, 185-pound range with broad shoulders and an impressive overall build. Porter feels that his most natural position is RB, but with the logjam at that position he's spent most of his career on the defensive side of the ball as a LB/S hybrid.
If you thought Curtis' depth in the backfield was ridiculous, then get ready to hear about their secondary.
Allen played much of last year at free safety but will move to corner in college. He was clocked at 4.38 in the New Orleans Under Armour Combine. Cooper took first in the 400 meters at the state track meet this week. Alexander was among the few sophomores who were allowed to compete at the U.S. Army Junior Combine, and he more than held his own against top talent. Dale is the cousin of senior DE Torrey Bell (who, on a side note, has legally changed his last name to "Dale").
Allen and Cooper will be seniors, while Alexander, Lewis and McGraw will be juniors. Dale is a '15 prospect.
The unit swiped nine passes in 2011, led by Allen with four. Cooper broke up 11 passes and Allen had 12.
On paper the matchup to watch in the Byrnes vs. John Curtis contest is the Byrnes passing attack vs. the pass rush and coverage skills of the Patriots.
We'll have much more on this matchup in the months leading up to the game, and we'll also take an early look at Plant vs. St. Paul's in the near future.