COCOA – Cocoa High head football coach John Wilkinson is itching to play a football game.
Because of cancellations, the Tigers didn’t play a preseason game and won’t play on opening week as no team had agreed to fill Friday’s void as of Tuesday afternoon. Therefore, the team will open its season at home on Sept. 5 against East Lee County.
“They’re hungry to play,” Wilkinson said Monday of his seniors. “They’re very optimistic, but this is the first group that doesn’t have a ring on their finger. They don’t want to graduate without one.”
That would be a championship ring. The program won three in a row before Miami’s Booker T. Washington interrupted the streak at the end of the 2011 season.
This year, Cocoa enters the season with one of the top 10th-grade quarterbacks in the country in Bruce Judson, who is on the MaxPreps 2014 Preseason Sophomore Football All-American Team. He threw 11 touchdown passes during the 2013 regular season, and he ran for 10 more. With a year of varsity experience, his role will expand this year. Judson will be sprinting out and running bootlegs more.
“He had to make a lot of quick throws last year,” Wilkinson said. “Now he’s much more confident and understands a lot more of the offense.”
This time, it is the offensive line that will be learning, with just one returning starter, Jawaan Taylor.
There are several athletes who will see action at the other skill positions, running back and receiver. Beyond Judson, the best news for the Tigers is the defense.
“I think we’re going to be really fast and physical,” Wilkinson said.
Brandon Phillips and Marquise Lewis will anchor the middle of the defense from their linebacker positions, and the secondary will be as deep and as talented as it has been since the last time the Tigers won one of those rings.
Chauncey Gardner, a safety, and Jamel Dean, a cornerback, return, and Juandarius Dukes transferred from Rockledge. Clifton Plain, also a senior, lettered last season as well.
Gardner and Dean will be among those playing some on both offense and defense, but there will be less of that than in recent seasons.
“We won’t have any that will go 100 percent on both sides,” Wilkinson said.
One strength of Cocoa’s state championship teams was the advantage of playing most players on just one side of the ball.
The Tigers will again leave the state for a game. They will play at Trinity in Louisville, Ky., in September. That team won a mythical national championship in 2011.
Contact McCallum at 321-242-3698 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow high school sports news on Twitter @321preps.
This is the last of FLORIDA TODAY’s previews of high school football teams around the county. Find them all at floridatoday.com/321preps.
Meet the Player
Sr., DB/WR, 6-2, 200
Favorite pro sports team: Tennessee Titans
Dream job: Mechanical engineer
Summer movie he liked: “Transformers: Age of Extinction”
Pump-up song: “Can’t Be Touched,” by Roy Jones Jr.
Go-to fast food item: McDonald’s fries
2014 Tigers Schedule
Sept. 5 East Lee County 7
Sept. 12 at Astronaut 7
Sept. 19 at Louisville Trinity 7
Oct. 3 at Cocoa Beach 7
Oct. 10 at Seabreeze 7
Oct. 17 Space Coast 7
Oct. 23 at Atlantic 7
Oct. 31 Jones 7
Nov. 7 Rockledge 7