Larry Blustein

Despite losing coach and senior talent, Miramar poised to reload

After being upset by Palm Beach Gardens in the Class 8A state playoffs and then watching the most successful coach in school history take a college job, there some who were quick to write off Miramar as a contender for the 2014 season.

Although this program has been one of the best in Florida over the past five years, some felt that Miramar might fall from the elite this upcoming season after losing coach Damon Cogdell and a quality class of seniors.

Fearing that many of the remaining players might be persuaded to transfer to other schools, Miramar High administrators worked quickly to hire a replacement for Cogdell, who had taken his alma mater to levels the program had never been since opening in the early 1970s.

Before leaving to take an assistant coaching position with the Mountaineers, Cogdell helped the Patriots to quickly name a successor. The decision to hire Miramar assistant coach Matt Strout was an easy one because the staff that had so much success working under Cogdell would remain in place for a smooth transition and the players would be content to stay.

Although several key players graduated on both sides of the ball, it was the offense that really took a hit as two quarterbacks, a number of quality running backs, receivers and linemen departed, leaving Strout and his staff with a huge spring assignment.

“This spring was so much easier because of the staff that remained,” Strout admitted. “We realized that our defense would be solid, but there were many questions to be answered on the offensive side of the ball, where a new quarterback, several new linemen and a coordinator all had to gel.”

Class of 2016 quarterback Demari Simpkins (5-11, 170 pounds) was the perfect place to start for a team that featured some impressive returning talent. Simpkins, who is still a work in progress, picked things up quickly — and with a 13-day trip planned this summer to several colleges — learning all facets of the spread offense will come easier.

“We are very excited about what Demari brings to this offense,” Strout explained. “We lost two senior leaders at the position from last year, so it was essential that he came in and picked things up almost immediately.”

Although Simpkins will manage the offense, he will not be asked to do it all. The senior class is loaded with playmakers, including running back Alex Anderson (6-0, 205), who is regarded as one of the best in the state, and Sanjai Bruno (5-9, 180), who saw extensive playing time a year ago. Receivers Khalil Lewis (6-1, 195) and Kevin Purlett (6-4, 200) are quality players as well.

The offensive line, which lost some depth, features University of Miami commit Leeward Brown (6-4, 320), Stewart Boyd (6-3, 285) and versatile Jaquan Owens, who made the move from defense last season.

“This senior class has experience and leadership,” Strout pointed out. “That was huge in our spring game win at a very athletic Lake Wales squad.”

Class of 2016 prospects such as running back Greg McCrae (5-11, 165), receiver Kyle Anthony (6-4, 180) and Everglades line transfer Obinna Nwankwo (6-3, 280) give this program plenty to work with during the summer.