By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor
Since taking over as head coach of his alma mater in 2015, Roger Harriott has won back-to-back FHSAA Class 7 state championships and turned St. Thomas Aquinas into a nationally ranked powerhouse.
The St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) football team’s dreams of winning a national championship were dashed in Week 1 last season.
After entering the season as the No. 1 ranked team in the country, Aquinas lost a heart-breaker to Booker T. Washington – a game that appeared to go in the Raiders’ favor until the final seconds, when the officiating crew ruled that a would-be Aquinas touchdown pass was stopped inches short of the goal line.
“Managing team emotions after losing a game is obviously difficult to overcome, as it relates to remaining motivated,” Aquinas coach Roger Harriott said.
Harriott kept his team motivated to the tune of a second straight FHSAA Class 7A state championship. The team laden with Division 1 prospects finished the season ranked seventh in the nation after pounding rival Plant, 45-6, in the state championship game.
The story of the Aquinas season was one of resilience and persistence – a team that overcame an early setback, recalibrated its goals, and came away with the program’s 10th state championship in school history.
“We cultivate an environment that’s strategically conducive to interdependent brotherhood, family-oriented camaraderie – and ultimately, being a champion in life,” Harriott said. “Football is a tool we utilize to ensure our players become productive citizens and champion fathers and family men when that time comes.”
Those lessons were imparted by the Aquinas coaching staff not only after the Week 1 loss, but also when the Raiders suffered a triple-overtime road defeat at the hands of eventual national-champion Bishop Gorman in late September.
Harriott kept his team focused down the homestretch, and Aquinas won its final nine games against Florida opponents by an average of 37 points.
“The theme for this season is, ‘A Great Story,’ which correlates with the adversity we experienced and overcame,” Harriott said. “This team will be remembered for the leadership and love these players demonstrated toward our St. Thomas Aquinas Raider family. Our team motto is, ‘You go! We go!’ This 2016 senior group epitomized that slogan as the standard of faith, family, tradition, and excellence.”
Harriott, 40, was an all-county running back at Aquinas in 1994, before playing college football at Boston University and Villanova. His first head coaching job came at University School in Davie (Fla.), where he turned the program into a state powerhouse. Harriott’s University School teams went 78-15, and won a state championship in 2012.
Harriott points to former STA head coach George Smith and former Villanova running backs coach Stan Drayton as his professional inspirations.
“I was privileged to witness Coach Smith dedicate his life to the game as a pioneer of the holistic developmental process of high school football,” Harriott said. “He was instrumental in providing statewide guidance and support to all high school football players, coaches and affiliates.
“As for Coach Drayton, he pushed my potential by teaching me the value of possessing an unyielding work ethic along with articulating the importance of being a professional role model.”