When Cory Johnson accepted the head coaching position at Killian in July 2009, he had a daunting task ahead of him.
He was to uphold the football legacy his alma mater had maintained for decades, but he had to do it after a 10-3 2008 squad that reached regionals lost more than 30 seniors, including future Dolphins running back Lamar Miller.
The mixture of inexperience and unremitting pressure from high expectations resulted in a disappointing 3-7 first season for Johnson, who had spent the previous eight years coaching defense at Southwest.
sophomores started at 18 of the 22 positions, and the Cougars went 1-9. But the hardships that young team endured built character.
After a 6-4 season in 2011 in which Killian barely missed out on the playoffs, the Cougars are off to a 3-0 start, with their District 16-8A opener against Southridge (1-2) Saturday at Harris Field.
“Most of the results you see, it’s because [the seniors] have been there for three years,” Johnson said. “Their sophomore years they got thrown all over the field like rag dolls. Last year they grew, and now it’s their time to dominate.”
In its first game, Killian built a 35-0 halftime lead over Homestead and cruised to a 42-21 win. Then the team shut out South Miami (19-0) and Edison (16-0).
“It was a big jump for us because we worked really hard in the summer,” said senior cornerback Cortez Benjamin, one of those 18 sophomores in 2010. “Morning time, raining, we were really working hard out here, pushing sleds.”
The defense has been impressive, surrendering 114 yards of offense per game. It has not allowed a single first-half score and has forced nine turnovers.
“It’s the ‘K,’ that’s what we’re known for,” Johnson says of the tradition of strong defense at Killian.
It all starts up front for this defense. Linemen Cedric Larsen, who has led the team in tackles the past two games, and Matthew Colominas, who in the Homestead game registered a sack, a safety and a forced fumble, dominate the line of scrimmage.
Johnson, a former defensive lineman at Killian (from 1992-96) and Florida A&M, takes pride in his team’s dominance up front but attributes the success to defensive line coach Ardante Dawson, who Johnson played with at Killian.
The Cougars look to stop the run — they give up 34 rushing yards per game — and then feast off takeaways once they make opponents one-dimensional.
For Killian to stop the run Saturday, it will have to stop Southridge junior running back Jamal Adajamah, who has averaged 8.4 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns in three games.
“I got to lay the wood on him,” Benjamin added. “He runs me over, I’m going to take one for the team, but he’s going to get tackled.”
Offensively, Killian will try to run its wing-T against a disciplined Southridge defense that holds opponents to 13.5 points per game.
Killian will try to get the ball in sophomore Jaquan Johnson’s hands as much as possible. He plays on both sides of the ball and has taken snaps at wingback, receiver and quarterback. On the season, he has scored four touchdowns with 154 yards rushing and 132 yards receiving.