Moments after a convincing spring game win over South Plantation, Miami Killian head coach and defensive coordinator Cory Johnson gathered his team for a meeting that would send them into summer with a feeling that this team will be one of the state’s best.
With so many experts talking about every program from Miramar and Flanagan — to North Miami, Coral Gables, South Dade and Christopher Columbus as being among the early favorites to represent South Florida in Orlando in the third week of December, it might be the Cougars who really have the best change among 8A schools.
While the offense will change and reflect a more wide open look in 2014, it’s Killian’s defense that could be the best in the state. This is a unit that is not only talented — with a mix of youth and veteran athletes — but you would be hard-pressed to find a deeper group anywhere.
“The past few years we have really built this team on the tremendous athletes we have on the defensive side of the ball,” Johnson said. “This year could be one of the best and most talented we have had here in decades.”
Never miss a local story.
Johnson’s enthusiasm comes from watching the talent perform. Not just against a young South Plantation squad in the spring, but last season when his defense was one of the toughest to score on. He believes as good as the Cougars were on defense in 2013, this coming season will see a unit that could go toe-to-toe with anyone.
“Look anywhere on this defense and you will see big-time prospects,” Johnson said. “I have to believe that our secondary is as good as any in this state and maybe in the country. We have proven players who have more than proven they could lineup against the best and come out on top.”
Leading the way in the talented secondary is rising senior Jaquan Johnson (5-10, 175). This gifted safety has been one of the best nationally since arriving at the school and making a solid impact as a freshman All-State performer.
While Johnson is gifted and a major playmaker, he is not alone. Fellow rising senior Sheldrick Redwine (6-2, 190) is among the most recruited players o the team and has been a mainstay the past two years.
As good as Johnson and Redwine are, rising junior DiCaprio Bootle (5-9, 160) and rising sophomore Juwan Horn (5-9, 160) have stepped up during the past few months and have provided the Cougars that athletic difference.
“This secondary reminds me a lot of the 2013 team when we had those veterans along with talented youth,” Johnson explained. “It shows you that we are building a program and not just a one- or two-year thing.”
Any outstanding defense is not just about what you roll out in the secondary. The front seven is always an indication of how strong the defense will be, and the Cougars certainly reflect that with a deep and athletic corps of linebackers.
Leading the way are rising seniors Bruce Davis (6-0, 195), James Bowe Jr. (6-2, 180), Andres Velazquez (5-11, 190) and 5-11, 190-pound speedster Kamal Pestaina.
“If you look at any part of our defense that really made strides in the spring, it’s our linebackers,” Johnson said. “We knew that Bruce would be a leader and one that always made plays, but James, Andres and Kamal all stepped up their game and showed how much they want to be playing 15 games this coming season.”
In last year’s race for a district title, the place the Cougars made the most impact was on the line. Several key prospects came up with huge plays all season. While several have graduated, young prospects were given the chance during the spring to prove what they could do — and when May came to an end, several rising sophomores grabbed starting spots.
Rising sophomores Mike Martinez, Romello Brooks and Tahaj Virgin have shown that they are ready to step in and impact the Cougars. They will be joined by rising juniors Nick Lopez, three sport (football, volleyball and basketball) athlete Damian Horton (6-3, 215) and Terrell McClain (6-2, 190), who saw extensive playing time last season.
The Cougars also boast rising junior nose tackles Raekwon Adderly (5-10, 210), versatile nose guard/H-Back Obed Garcia (5-10, 195) and surprising Class of 2017 prospect DeAndre Johnson, a 6-3, 220-pounder, who brings plenty of football experience into the program.
“When I look at this defensive unit — as a whole — it’s hard not to be excited,” Johnson said. “We have six former Killian players on staff who take pride in getting these players ready for the long run in 2014.”