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Four years ago, Kareem Reid brought his very young, but extremely talented Coconut Creek Cougars to Orlando to the University of Central Florida to kick off the summer at the Knights 7-on-7 football tournament.
When his team failed to make the semifinals, Reed, who graduated from UCF, vowed that his program would win this event as soon as the following year. The players felt the same way.
With a big-time group of receivers, an accurate and talented quarterback and a defensive secondary that had already proven they can go against the best, Reed’s offseason program started to show that they were for real.
Two years ago, the Cougars clawed their way to the finals, losing a close game, but at least getting everyone’s attention.
Last year was the perfect storm. From the moment this athletic offseason powerhouse walked into UCF, all eyes were on this team that had already boasted three Army All-American game selections. It was a given that Coconut Creek would win it all, and when they beat Bradenton Braden River, it ended a day where they ran through the event and held the trophy high.
As Reed accepted a head coach position in Georgia and several, if not 75 percent of the team that won it all, has moved on, the thought of coming anywhere close to repeating would be a real surprise this year.
While his pedigree as a coach will never be questioned, Gerald Cox took over the program this spring, right after finishing off a tremendous career with 4-time state champion Miami Central. His objective really was not on what was happening on June 4th. He was consumed about building a winning program.
As the Cougars entered the tournament last weekend as the defending champions, most in the field never considered this team as a threat. Not when you lost basically all the offensive playmakers. But Coconut Creek plays for real, and if nobody else thought they had a legitimate shot of reaching the semifinals for the third straight year, these young men did.
From the start, it wouldn’t be easy. Big plays helped them against Orlando Jones and Miramar. But things began to really click, and by the time the lunch break came, they were just one of 4 unbeaten teams – again.
As each game was played, the Cougars continued to gain momentum and making the final four for the third straight year became a reality when they beat Merritt Island, coached in the secondary by former University of Miami standout player and coach, Hurlie Brown. That win over Merritt Island gave them seven more wins, 16 in two years.
Facing off with Lakeland’s Lake Gibson in the semifinals proved to be too much on a hot day.
“The young men came here to play, and they weren’t going to let the fact that many of those high-level kids have moved on, stand in the way,” Cox said. “We came up with a number of big plays, and ran out of gas against a good team. But we move on and up, and we’ll be better than fine.”
The Cougars relied on the play of 2017 quarterback Brion Jackson, 2017 receivers Akai Rainford, Devon Golding, 2018 pass-catchers Ladarius Burrows, Jamari Laster, Stanley Garner, Mike Joseph and 2020 standout Carlson Joseph.
Defensively, 2018 secondary performers JaQuinton Thomas, Deon Crowder, Marquis Williams, Miguel Edwards, and 2019 standout Taiwan Mullens, and linebackers T.J. Lewis (2018) and Tavares Daniels (2019).
MIRAMAR, SOUTHRIDGE & TARAVELLA GET MAJOR TEST
The Cougars were not the only team that came up and made a lasting impression. Coach Charles Hafley’s Taravella Trojans learned plenty, playing some top programs who came.
Southridge, which is loaded with talent, has been in demand so far during the offseason, and after just three hours sleep, coming from the University of Florida event, made it to the quarterfinals, before losing.
But once again, second-year head coach Pierre Senatus and his Miramar Patriots showed that they are indeed rebuilding – dropping a semifinal match to eventual champion Daytona Beach Mainland.
“This is the kind of thing that we have always done in my coaching career,” Senatus explained. “This is about always searching out competition and making the most of your opportunity.”
Including defensive back Brian Edwards, who received a Florida offer after Friday’s visit, and a UCF offer after the event on Saturday, this is a team that will be ready to challenge for a district title in the fall.
Among the athletes who came Friday to Gainesville and Saturday in Orlando were Steve Williams, Ranny Williams, Anthony Needham, Roddy Evans, Josh Cross, Karon Brown, Armstrong Johnson, Juwan Hardy, Antwan Murray, Kaheem Roach, Yasir Abdullah, Chandler Jones, Brian Witter, Chris Smith, Xavier Laing, Jagler Floyd, Sidney McCleod and Elijah Desir.
It was also new head coach Scott Frost and his staff getting to see some of the talent from all over south and central Florida.
Among those who played were on hand included Seffner Armwood, Avon Park, Orlando Bishop Moore, Orlando Celebration, Orlando Boone, Orlando Dr. Phillips, Orlando Edgewater, Eustis, Winter Garden Foundation Academy, Orlando Freedom, Kissimmee Gateway, Orlando Jones, Winter Park, Winter Park Lake Howell, Tallahassee Lincoln, Longwood Lyman, Ocoee, Oviedo, Sanford Seminole, Groveland South Lake, Cocoa Space Coast, Port Orange Spruce Creek, Vero Beach and Ocala West Port.