VIDEO: Cocoa Tigers Head Coach John Wilkinson Has Passion For Greatness
By SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME // December 9, 2016
SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME
ABOVE VIDEO: Wilkinson’s teams have been a perennial contender for state championships, capturing state titles in three consecutive seasons – 2008, 2009 and 2010, then added another title in 2016 – and reaching the state semifinals in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. During the state championship run, Cocoa won 38 straight games from 2008 to 2010.
JOHN WILKINSON – 2013 INDUCTEE
• 38 Straight Victories
• 3 Consecutive State Titles
• Member of FACA Hall of Fame
MERRITT ISLAND HIGH GRADUATE
Playing for legendary football coach Gerald Odom at Merritt Island High School, John Wilkinson learned that the more challenging a game actually is, the more it creates an opportunity for greatness.
When his playing days for the Mustangs ended with his graduation in 1988, Wilkinson decided to pursue a career in coaching. It was his commitment to the sage lessons he learned from coach Odom that led to a stellar coaching career and his induction into the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame.
Throughout his career of guiding the fortunes of prep football teams, Wilkinson himself has broken through the barriers of greatness and thrived under the most difficult of situations.
He carefully studied how to coach and motivate young athletes while earning a degree at the University of Florida. Following college, Wilkinson returned to serve as a football assistant under Odom at Merritt Island High School.
He then accepted an offer to be an assistant coach for the University of Massachusetts football squad before returning to Florida and again joining Odom’s staff as an offensive coordinator, this time at New Smyrna Beach High School. In 2002, Wilkinson was named head football coach at Brooksville Central High School and moved west, coaching that team through the end of the 2004 season.
PASSION FOR WINNING
Wilkinson longed to return home to the Space Coast and in 2005 he got his chance. When Odom was finishing up his career as the head coach at Cocoa High School, he recommended Wilkinson to the Tigers’ athletic director Chuck Goldfarb as his replacement.
Goldfarb remembered Wilkinson’s passion for winning way back when he was one of his students at Merritt Island High School, and hired him for the job. It was that decision that prompted a revival of the football fortunes of Cocoa High School and a renewed sense of pride for the entire city.
In 11 years at the helm of the Tigers, Wilkinson’s teams have been a perennial contender for state championships, capturing state titles in three consecutive seasons – 2008, 2009 and 2010 – and reaching the state semifinals in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.
If that wasn’t enough, during the state championship run, Cocoa won 38 straight games from 2008 to 2010 despite playing one of the most difficult schedules in the nation. A small school powerhouse that year after year competes against some of the top prep teams in America, Wilkinson and the Tigers have defied the odds and suited up against opponents other teams would shy away from playing.
In the a span of three seasons, the Tigers have competed against national high school football powers like Olive Branch (Miss.) and Abilene (Texas), Colerain (Ohio), Dallas Skyline (Texas), West Monroe (La.), Thomas Jefferson (Pennsylvania) Bergen Catholic (New Jersey) and St. Joseph’s Prep (Pennsylvania). Cocoa also has faced some of Florida’s tougher teams like Miami Central, Madison County, Washington and American Heritage.
Big or small schools, playing in and out of state, the Tigers have taken on all comers and succeeded against all odds. “We play in Florida and have some fantastic competition right here,” Wilkinson told a national reporter.
“But even with that, you don’t really know how good your team is until you go and play outside your borders. We will go anywhere and play anyone.”
Wilkinson says competing against the best builds character and strengthens his team. “This is all about the players and their desire to play the best competition they can and prove that they can compete with anyone,” he said.
“They just want to perform at the highest level and we as coaches want to give them the best chance to be seen and get into college programs. Our goal remains to win a state championship every season and build players that can have the opportunity to perform at the next level.”
For his efforts as Cocoa coach, Wilkinson was honored as 2011 Florida Coach of the Year by the National Federation of High Schools and in 2012 he was inducted into the Florida Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
THE 2017 SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME Banquet and Induction Ceremony will take place at the Cocoa Beach Country Club on Friday, May 12.
FOR INFORMATION ABOUT the 2017 SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME, call 321-615-8111 or e-mail MaverickMultimedia@gmail.com