CORAL GABLES - Fresh off a fantastic season which saw the Cavaliers post an 11-2 record, Coral Gables returns key personnel that was instrumental in their deep postseason run last fall.
The defense is loaded with eight returning starters and is poised to carry the Cavaliers back to the 8A playoffs. In seven games, they held opponents to six points or less, while shutting out five teams. Despite losing Miami Herald first team All-Dade performers in CB Mark Wynn and ATH Antiwone Johnson, Coral Gables returns (all seniors) first team linebacker Jontavis Testa, second team defensive end Shakur Cooper, third team linebacker Emilio Gibbs, and third team defensive back Andrew Spence.
Let's not forget honorable mentions in senior defensive tackle Dhany Dye and an underclassmen, junior safety/outside linebacker Gee Stanley. That's an impressive list of returning talent. A newcomer to the defensive line, Jarred McGahee, younger cousin of former University of Miami running back Willis McGahee, will help shore up the Cavaliers defensive front.
Coral Gables head coach Roger Pollard agrees that his front seven will wreak havoc once again in 2014. "Our front seven is going to be tough and we're going to field a beast defense," he told FlaVarsity. "I think we were the no. 4 defense in the county last season, and as our defensive coordinator, I put it on our seniors to be better this year. It's a tall order."
Offensively, five starters return. Running back Gregory Howell and his 1,567 yards and 13 touchdowns will be missed, but there is talent in the stable. Junior Kenio Mike and senior Hans Supre, two smaller, quicker backs than Howell, will likely split time.
Wide receiver will also be a position of strength for the Cavaliers. Senior Shaquery Wilson is a third team All-Dade standout with 14 offers and more on the horizon. Expect senior Dae'mhun Fuller and sophomore Kemore Gamble to also be featured in the passing game. Offensive coordinator David Cooney said it's the deepest corps he's had.
The position with the least amount of clarity in 2014 is quarterback, although talent and starting experience return. Coral Gables has a trio of quarterbacks vying to be the starter: senior Eldrick Clapp, and juniors Voshon Waiters and Eduardo Mendez.
"If you have three quarterbacks, you really have none. We're looking for one of these guys to step up and lead this team," Pollard remarked.
Coach Cooney said the competition will breed excellence at the position. "You always want to see competition. Both Clapp and Waiters started their sophomore seasons, so we've had success with sophomore quarterbacks recently. We want to build on that and we think we have three quality guys that can play anywhere in the county."
In the 2013 Regional Finals, Coral Gables lost a heartbreaker in a torrential downpour, 6-0 to eventual state champ South Dade, giving up the winning score with just 15 seconds left in the game. With last season's disappointing conclusion in the rearview mirror, Coach Pollard is optimistic about his 2014 Cavaliers.
"It's about growth. The year before, we won one playoff game, last year, two. If we don't win three this year, we've taken a step back. If you're not growing, you're dying. We can't stand still because our competition will catch up with us," he commented. "I told last year's seniors that I set our goals too low with just winning the district championship, and I believe people seldom exceed their own expectations. So when we locked the district up, we had that moment where we exhaled and thought we had accomplished our goal, and it wasn't over for us. I really believe we had the ability last year and have it this year to win the state championship, that's our goal. It's been a long time since people could say that about Coral Gables Senior High."