When Cocoa (Fla.) coach John Wilkinson presented his team's 2011 schedule, he faced several critics.
With games at Cincinnati Colerain and Dallas Skyline to start the season, some were wondering whether the three-time state champions were taking on more than they could handle.
Even though the Tigers lost both games, Wilkinson thinks his team is strong and ready to make a push for a fourth consecutive state championship.
"Yeah, I think we figured some things out about ourselves and some things position-wise that we can do going forward," Wilkinson said. "We're all still together, and we understand we've played some very good football teams. They were nationally ranked teams."
However, the schedule gets no easier this week when Cocoa hosts 2010 Class 6A state champion Miami Central on Friday in a game that came about during the offseason when Wilkinson and Miami Central coach Telly Lockette were both speaking at Florida State University.
"I had wanted to play both of the Class 6A finalists with one in the spring and one in the fall," Wilkinson said. "Telly and I had the chance to get together, and thankfully we were able to work something out."
Going into the 2011 season, Cocoa was carrying a 38-game winning streak, but Wilkinson understood there was a possibility of starting the season with a couple of losses.
For him, the primary goal is intact -- win another state championship -- and whatever early adversity his team faces will only make it tougher down the stretch.
"I'm the one who made the schedule, and when you make the schedule, you have to look at the good and the bad and the possibilities," Wilkinson said. "I don't like playing people that we are going to beat up on.
"It's better to go into a game when you have a 50-50 chance of losing. It makes you better as a coach and it makes the team better. Bottom line is we want to win a state championship. We got our noses bloodied two weeks in a row but we are going to learn from it."
The Rockets, on the other hand, have come out of the gate swinging despite having several new starters on both sides of the ball. Last week they upended Booker T. Washington 29-26 in a game that most likely solidified the Rockets as the new top program in Miami-Dade County.
Led by sophomores Joseph Yearby (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) and Dalvin Cooke (5-8, 170), the Rockets haven't seen much of a drop-off in the running game after the departure of Devonta Freeman to Florida State. Quarterback Austin Stock has managed the offense well in replacing Raheem Cato (Marshall signee).
Defensively, the Rockets have reloaded behind defensive back Donaldven Manning (Virginia Tech commit) and linebackers Errol Clarke (Cincinnati commit), Brian Nicholson and Josh Ballesteros (both Minnesota commits).
Wilkinson said there is little doubt what kind of challenge Central will bring.
"They are very very good and very athletic," Wilkinson said. "They are well coached and just do a tremendous job with everything."
To counter, Wilkinson presents his own running game led by juniors Taurean Folston (5-10, 195) and Antwan Lee (5-9, 170), and a young offensive line that has quickly gotten used to major challenges.
"This week against Central, we'll have three sophomores and two juniors on the offensive line," Wilkinson said. "It's like these guys have been baptized by fire a little bit, and it shows because both of the programs we've played have strong interior defensive linemen.
"We've gotten pushed around a little bit. But that's how we're going to get better. We've had two good weeks of practice and we're solidified in places on the line, and we've just got to battle and get into a fight every single play."
Defensively, the numbers aren't great, especially for a team that hangs its hat on being fast and physical. But as long as senior Grady Redding (5-9, 190 pounds) is on the field, Cocoa will continue to compete at a high level.
"I haven't been overly excited on that side of the ball this year, and I want us to turn up the intensity this week," Wilkinson said. "We're known for defense, and we are known for winning the ugly ballgames sometimes.
"Grady is our leader, and he's going to do what he does -- play sideline to sideline -- and try to make every tackle."
Knauf posts huge numbers
All-purpose athlete B.J. Knauf (Lakeland, Fla./Sante Fe Catholic) has found his niche in his senior season.
Forced into quarterback duty for his team, Knauf has used his speed, timed at 4.33 in the Jacksonville Under Armour combine, to post huge numbers early in the season.
Last week in a 27-7 victory over Brooksville (Fla.) Bishop McLaughlin, Knauf rushed for 234 yards and four touchdowns. His shortest touchdown run was 38 yards, and the Purdue commit is quickly establishing himself as one of the breakout stars in 2011.
"It's been a lot of fun so far," Knauf said. "I was asked to play quarterback when the old quarterback transferred to Trinity Catholic. So far things have worked out."
Things also are working out with Purdue, where Knauf was recruited to play slot receiver and participate on the return team.
"I'm very happy with my choice, and I think the coaching staff there is wonderful," Knauf said. "I'm going to be taking my official visit during the weekend of the Notre Dame game."
Johnson set at UCF
If you have been to a UCF football game early this season, it's no surprise to see wide receiver Drico Johnson (Orlando, Fla./Agape Christian) in the stands.
The UCF commit was impressed with last week's victory over Boston College.
"I thought they looked real good, especially considering the competition," Johnson said. "BC has been to a lot of bowl games and won big games over the past few years but we just rolled them."
Johnson, who selected UCF over Cincinnati, NC State, Indiana and a host of other schools is hopeful that he won't be the final local piece in UCF's recruiting class.
"We have a lot of talent in Orlando, and I want to play with these guys at the next level," Johnson said. "UCF has everything you could want in a program."
Johnson said he's always trying to talk to the other Orlando-area recruits such as ESPNU 150 wide receiver Alton Howard (Orlando, Fla./Edgewater) and three-star prospect D'Vario Montgomery (Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park).
• Athlete MacGarrett Kings (Davie, Fla./University School), a Michigan State commit, was recently offered by Georgia but has not committed to a visit.
• Miami commit Larry Hope (Hialeah, Fla./American) was airlifted to a hospital Thursday night after suffering a deep gash on his head.
• Glades Central (Belle Glade, Fla.) quarterback Tanner Redish, who struggled mightily in a televised game against Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.) two weeks ago, threw for 241 yards and a couple of touchdowns in 41-34 victory over American
Heritage (Delray Beach, Fla.) on Thursday.
• In the same game, American Heritage's Class of 2013 running back Greg Bryant rushed for more than 200 yards and two touchdowns.
Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at email@example.com.