Devonta Freeman, Miami Central Running Back, Is the Player to Watch Tonight Against Northwestern

Devonta Freeman grew up running through the thick mud on the riverbanks in Georgia. By the time he was a teenager, he was sprinting for cash on the street corners of Little Haiti.

Now the 18-year-old running back is lighting up South Florida defenses as one of the stars of the Miami Central High Rockets football team.

But his and Central's season is on the line tonight against Liberty City archrival Northwestern. We promise the game will be a hell of a lot better than watching the Miami Heat.

The last time the two teams squared off, Devonta (pronounced Deh-VON-tay) ran for 226 yards and two touchdowns. With Northwestern focused on Central's rapid-strike passing game, Freeman found acres of space to exploit. Central won 25-22.

Despite largely sitting out several blowout wins earlier in the season, Freeman has 1,260 yards in 11 games. The 5-foot-11 senior is taking his dreadlocks and biceps tattoos to Tallahassee next year to play for the Florida State Seminoles.

And although he hasn't yet reached the 2,000-yard mark he set for himself ahead of the season, he has already proven his doubters wrong.

But Devonta's impending demolition of the Bulls defensive line is only one matchup to look for tonight.

Another key rivalry is the duel between the two all-star quarterbacks: Central's cerebral passer Rakeem Cato and Northwestern's double-threat Teddy Bridgewater. Although Bridgewater has proven he can handle big-game pressure this season -- leading the Bulls to several last-minute comebacks -- he doesn't have the arsenal available to Cato. Central boasts nearly half a dozen quality receivers, not least among them the dependable Tommy Shuler and the mercurial but explosive Charles Gaines Jr., one of the best wideouts in the state.

Ultimately, however, the game will come down to more than offensive output. First, Central's defense has come a long way since a gut-wrenching opening-day loss to Camden County, Georgia that ruined the team's national title hopes.

But Central's ace in the hole is its kicking game, made up entirely by sophomore Emilio Nadelman. His kickoffs and punts render opponents' return teams worthless. In the win over Northwestern earlier in the season, his 42-yard field goal was the difference.

Don't expect a blowout, but we predict the Rockets to topple the Bulls 28-21. Central beat Northwestern in the playoffs last year before losing to Miramar in the semis. This time around, we say state champs.

Tonight's kickoff is at 7:30 at Traz Powell Stadium, Miami Dade College North Campus, 11380 NW 27th Ave. Arrive early. The game will be packed.