Ronald Patrick went on to the University of South Carolina and then the Dallas Cowboys. Josh Woods to Eastern Michigan and Freddie Booth-Lloyd to Temple.
The list of recent Cocoa High offensive linemen moving on to major colleges is growing. Within a year, Jawaan Taylor will join the list, having committed to sign in February with Miami.
He will be the biggest yet, at 6-foot-5 and 330 pounds. More significantly for Tigers fans, the group around him will have eligibility remaining, and they have most of this season remaining to do what Cocoa has been trying to do since 2011: get back to the state final.
Currently ranked third among Florida’s Class 4A schools, the Tigers have been a notch below Miami Booker T. Washington the last four years. As with any football team, a key to overtaking the opposition will be the offensive line.
“We’ve been kind of thin there, probably since Ronald Patrick and Josh Woods played,” head coach John Wilkinson said.
Those two were seniors in 2009, which, in Wilkinson’s mind, is the last time the offensive line had the continuity it has currently. Along with leader Taylor at right tackle, returning starters are Naceiya Gilmore, a 5-10, 265-pound junior at left guard, and Josh Padrick, a 5-10, 245-pound sophomore at center. Zack Brasher, a 5-11, 225-pound sophomore at right guard, is a first-year starter, as is junior Brandon Niebuhr (6-1, 225) at left tackle.
Having started as a freshman in 2014, Padrick will have the chance to be the only four-year starter Wilkinson has had on the line. And while it is Wilkinson’s team, the line is Mike Vogt’s baby.
Vogt has been coaching in Florida since 1982, when — on a recruiting trip for Iowa Wesleyan — he approached a man picking up trash on the campus of St. Pete’s Dixie Hollins High. He found out he was the principal and needed a new head coach. Vogt took the job.
He has since been the head coach at Melbourne and Satellite, but Tigers of this century know him as the offensive line coach for much of Wilkinson’s tenure. He coached the line at Melbourne the last two years before returning this fall to orange and black.
“Getting him back was huge for us,” Wilkinson said, giving him specific credit for the blooming of Taylor.
“You can just see he’s got a little mean streak to him now, driving guys down the field,” Wilkinson said. Taylor came to Cocoa as a soft, gentle giant. In the interim, he has been molded into the coveted recruit he is, and a challenge from Vogt and Wilkinson in the off-season has him in better shape than ever. He has slimmed down from at least 375.
“He was way up there,” Vogt said when asked Taylor’s peak weight. The coaches challenged him to slim down to 325, and he has nearly reached it.
“It gives him a lot more mobility, makes him a lot quicker,” Vogt said. “He’s all the way down field (blocking) a lot of the time now.”
The results are showing more than on Taylor’s waistline. First-year starting running back Timmy Pratt leads Brevard with 517 yards. Even in a loss two weeks ago against loaded IMG, the Bradenton sports academy that recruits nationally, Timmy Pratt rushed for 134 yards. It’s the most allowed by IMG this season, by 25 yards.
Keys to the line’s success, more than perhaps any other unit on the field, are communication and teamwork.
“Ninety percent of it is getting the right guy in the right spot,” Vogt said, crediting Doug Ruggles with building a strong foundation as the line coach last year. “What they do is they function really well together. They’re a really hard-working group.”
And Vogt isn’t their only leader. Another name from the past has come home to help coach the group. Woods, previously coaching at Titusville, has returned to Cocoa and joined the staff.
“He’s won state championships. He’s played in college,” Wilkinson said.
From prodigal sons to returning starters, the line has become a collection of familiar faces. The head coach, who said in 2008 after the program’s first state title that he’d like someday to have a ring for every finger, could be seeing the rejuvenation of one of the prime ingredients for No. 4.
“I think that unit is probably one of our strengths. It’s our offense’s biggest strength, and, by the end of the season, could be dominant.”
Contact McCallum at 321-242-3698 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Brian_McCallum and at facebook.com/FLtoday.brianmccallum.
Friday’s high school football schedule
Viera at Cocoa, 7
Titusville at Astronaut, 7 p.m.
Palm Bay at Melbourne, 7
Bayside at Satellite, 7
Holy Trinity at Cocoa Beach, 7
Port St. Lucie at Merritt Island, 7
Union County at Melbourne CC, 7
Space Coast at Poinciana, 7
Merritt Isl. Christian at Landmark Christian, 7
Ambassador Christian at Wildwood, 7
Heritage at Kissimmee Osceola, 7:30