It’s easy to look at the positives of Killian’s five-win improvement from 2010 to 2011.
Killian coach and alumni Cory Johnson reminds his team of the painful ending to last year’s “winning season,” however.
The Cougars, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2008, went 5-1 to begin last season. The start raised the excitement level at a program that won a state championship in 2004 and advanced to at least the second round of the playoffs six times from 2001 to 2008.
But Killian lost three of its final four games, and finished third in a three-team tiebreaker with district rivals Southridge and Coral Reef.
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“To me last season was actually a big disappointment,” Johnson said. “I come from the old Cougar tradition where we were expected to be the best and win championships. We looked like that kind of team at the start of the season, but we didn’t finish. We ran out of gas.”
Johnson is making sure his team has plenty left in the tank for the stretch run this season. Although practices are limited to three hours by new state regulations, the Cougars are making the most of it, doing intense conditioning to prepare for the grind of competing in one of the county’s toughest districts. In addition to Southridge and Coral Reef, last year’s District 16-8A playoff teams, Palmetto and South Dade have new coaches and improved squads.
Killian is a favorite to end its three-year playoff drought with a roster filled with three- and four-year starters.
“We were a more playful team and not as focused last year,” sophomore strong safety Jaquan Johnson said. “This year, everyone believes this is our year. In the fourth quarter, when teams are bending down tired, we’ll still be standing straight.”
Although he is playing in only his second season on the varsity team, Johnson headlines the Cougars’ talented group.
Johnson earned a spot on All-Dade first team last season, a rarity for a freshman, after finishing with five interceptions, 45 tackles, two forced fumbles (one recovery) and a blocked field goal.
Johnson (6-0, 175 pounds) has already caught the attention of colleges, including the University of Florida, and was rated the No. 1 linebacker prospect in the Class of 2015 by Friday Night Football magazine. Johnson was a middle linebacker during his Optimist days in Richmond Heights.
“I keep myself grounded and work hard not to get big-headed,” he said.
Killian will be one of the smaller teams in Class 8A.
Junior offensive lineman Jakari Bolton (6-5, 275) is the team’s biggest player. Cory Johnson said his next biggest weighs 245 pounds.
That’s where Jaquan Johnson and other talented players’ speed will be vital to the Cougars’ success.
Senior Jordan Gibbs (6-1, 210) is back after suffering a season-ending injury late in the season. Gibbs had a team-high nine sacks and was the team’s best blocker in 2011. Johnson, senior Rodari Revere and junior Tadam James all return. The trio combined for 1,221 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.
“We’re still in ‘we’ll see’ mode,” Cory Johnson said. “You still don’t hear us talked about much in terms of the favorites. But that’s the way I like it. I never get into all that stuff. I like for my kids to stay humble.”