Prep football | Friendship Collegiate Academy, D.C.'s rising stars, to face Manatee Hurricanes on Friday

Knights have become national power in less than a decade

jlembo@bradenton.comSeptember 12, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Friendship Collegiate Academy's football players don't have their own locker room or a fancy practice field.

Heck, up until nine years ago, the public charter school in Washington, D.C., didn't even have a team.

Yet last February during National Signing Day, 19 players signed with Division I or Division II schools. Consequently, the Knights' story has gone national.

The ESPN-owned website and Sports Illustrated have made pilgrimages to Friendship Beach -- a nickname given to the team's less-than-regal practice field -- to pen features on the team and its coach, Aazaar Abdul-Rahim.

Their schedule is national, too, and includes a stop Friday at Hawkins Stadium, where the Knights meet Manatee for 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

"First and foremost, our goal is to get our kids as many college opportunities and as much college exposure as we possibly can," Abdul-Rahim said Wednesday from the school's football office. "That has always been the driving force of our program. The underlining theme is to get them as much exposure as we can, and playing a historic program like Manatee, a perennially-ranked team nationally, is just great."

Abdul-Rahim, who grew up in D.C. and played at San Diego State on a football scholarship, pitched football to the school's hierarchy in 2004, selling it as a means to get more kids into college. And it hasn't taken the Knights long to become a power

house: They finished 9-1 in 2011 and won the first-ever DC State Athletic Association Football championship last season.

And because Friendship is not a member of the District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association and cannot compete for a state title, the Knights' schedule is filled with national opponents. They host New Jersey's Don Bosco Prep on Oct. 11 and head to Jersey on Nov. 2 for a meeting with Paramus Catholic.

Last season's schedule featured trips to Chicago, West Virginia and Maryland.

"I think it's a win-win for all our kids," Abdul-Rahim said of the travel. "It teaches them checking into a hotel -- stuff we take for granted that is great for them -- and packing a bag for the airport. And also etiquette, having good etiquette in the airport, good etiquette when we go out to eat.

"From a football aspect, they see how football is viewed in different areas. I definitely would say Bradenton cares for Manatee football more than D.C. cares about football, and that whole different culture is good to see."

The Knights are scheduled to arrive in Florida on Thursday and will practice at Manatee after the Hurricanes finish their walkthrough and prior to the start of the hosts' JV game.

For the Hurricanes, it's another chance to play a quality opponent. The Knights opened the season with a 33-6 win over Baltimore's St. Frances Academy, and their running back, Jonathan Haden, has committed to Arizona.

Defensive back Daejuan Funderburk has nearly 20 Division I offers, according to Rivals, and another defensive back, Jalen Tabor, is a five-star recruit who has 24 offers, with the likes of Alabama, Florida, Florida State and Ohio State clamoring for his services.

"They've got some great players. It's going to be interesting," Manatee head coach Joe Kinnan said. "They remind me a lot of Miami Central. They're (those) type of athletes. ... Up to this point, they will be the most athletic team overall that we will have played."

Manatee is 2-0 and ranked first in the state in Class 8A, as well as nationally ranked by Rivals (No. 26) and USA Today (No. 28). The Hurricanes had a full week to prepare for the Knights after opening the season Sept. 1 in Maryland before turning around Friday to play Venice.

Quarterback Josh Meyer practiced Monday and Tuesday, but did not go on Wednesday in order to rest his sore right ankle. Kinnan said he will be evaluated Thursday and has not been ruled out of Friday's game.

"We just want to make sure it's nothing serious," Kinnan said. "He's better now than he was this time last week."

Wide receiver Brodrick Yancy, who missed the Venice game with his own ankle injury, returned to action Wednesday and should be fine for Friday, Kinnan said.

"We've had a full seven days, and we're just trying to get some people healed up," he said. "Defensively, we're healthy and ready to go."

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