Coach Cokely Looking for Big Turnaround by Leon This Season
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer
Coach Tim Cokely reeled off the list of local Class 7A teams on Leon High School’s football schedule and came to one conclusion: This is going to be a tough season for the Lions.
But he refused to back off of the one mindset that he’s held since he started coaching more than two decades ago. “Anytime we start a season, I want to win a (state) championship,” Cokely said in an unequivocal tone. “This year is no different.
“I think I will be cheating the kids if I said let’s have a nice season and then go deer hunting. I want to win the championship.”
Now in his third season as Leon’s head coach, Cokely vowed to end the string of two consecutive 4-7 finishes. And, if he needs any motivation, he needs only to take in mind that this is the 100th year that the Lions are fielding a football team.
Cokely could also point to the fact that his team is loaded with seniors. Most of them played their first season at the varsity level when he took over the program.
Since then, he said, he’s seen plenty of growth.
“There is no magic dust or anything we’ve said or done,” he said, “but they’ve played a lot now.”
The one area that the Lions will be missing experience – at least in terms of playing time – is at quarterback.
Projected starter Eric Anderson went down with a knee injury mid-way through preseason camp and is doubtful to make it back before the season ends. Meanwhile, sophomore John Carey and junior Thyran Glasco are competing for the starting job under center.
They are both on a fast track, Cokely said.
“I’m really, really tough on them in practice,” he said. “With the more experienced guys, I’m easier but these younger guys I’m harder on them because I know when they get to the games it’s going to be hard.
“So I want them to experience hard in practice. It’s more about them not being too excited or too overwhelmed. We expect them to play well.”
The work ethic is there, obvious by the way the Lions hone their skills every day in practice. There is no letting up, even when coaches aren’t around.
Take for example, the day last week when Cokely and his staff had to attend a county-wide coaches’ meeting. In their absence, the team took to the weight room and just a few hours later was on the practice field.
“Coach Cokely made leaders out of us,” said senior offensive right guard Gabe Meyer. “Our biggest thing is we want to win. We are so tired of all of the losing. We know what it’s going to take so we have to go out there and keep driving until the final whistle.”
Not only is every player willing to push himself, but there is a chemistry among them unlike what he’s seen in his three previous seasons, Meyer said.
“We have to work hard because we know what level we have to be at in order to win a state championship,” he said. “We are not going to be able to reach that goal just messing around and not doing what coach tells us to do or doing nothing when no one is watching.”
Cokely, who made winning state titles routine when he coached at North Florida Christian where he won four consecutive titles, acknowledged that winning at the 7A level could be more challenging. However, he insisted that winning at the line of scrimmage could make all of the difference.
Especially on the defensive line, he said, pointing to the success that legendary high school coach Gene Cox had with teams that emphasized smash-mouth football.
“We are not going back to that because we always have to be forward thinking, but that’s a good formula,” Cokely said. “That is why when we were at North Florida Christian we won; we always played defense and we could run the ball. We finally have a sturdy enough team on both sides of the ball to do that.”
That’s from the defensive front to the last line of defense in the secondary. That unit is anchored by senior safety Damien Crumitie, who is in his second season at Leon after transferring from Jefferson County.
Making this the year that Leon gets back to being a winning program is simple, Crumitie said.
“We’ve got to make big-time plays,” he said. “Not one person, but everybody.”