His team may have missed the playoffs by less than a point last season. They may have not reached the postseason since 2015. Despite their past struggles, Eastside High head football coach Cederrick Daniels likes where his team’s trending.
It’s been a long haul of sorts for the third-year bench boss. His first year at the helm brought a single win; his next saw the Rams break .500 for the first time since 2008.
But with a Division I-caliber talent on either side of the ball, an experienced roster and a strong schedule in the offing, the third time might just be the charm for Daniels and his team.
Eastside, undoubtedly, lost some talent to graduation. Top receivers Braxston Presley and Devonte Tanksley — the latter of which led the Rams in receiving over the last two seasons — are gone, as are two-year starting safety Calvontay Key and defensive end Sholophious McCoy.
But according to Daniels, they’re far from depleted.
Both of his previous teams were young, and the 2018 edition of his squad has had the luxury of playing varsity football for multiple seasons.
Per Daniels, next year could bode even better — most of his players are set to return in 2019.
Ever since the FHSAA announced its switch to a playoff points system, high school teams have cared about strength of schedule almost as much as raw win totals. Daniels learned its importance firsthand: Per his count, Eastside missed out on the playoffs last season by six-tenths of a point.
To help counteract that, the head coach worked to compile a challenging slate of games. The Rams’ season-opener comes against rivals Buchholz — a team they haven’t beat in five years. According to Daniels, they’ve also scheduled Coconut Creek, a South Florida-team that plays in the same district as powerhouse American Heritage.
“Guys always said they want to play in a state championship game. …” Daniels said. “For us, I want to … get an idea of what it takes to make it that far.”
That playoff push ought to be helped by the arrival of some highly-rated freshmen.
According to Eastside’s MaxPreps site, only two first-year players made the Rams’ varsity squad. Coaches weren’t picking favorites: Defensive lineman Jahari Clemmons and wide receiver Jaquan Lee showed out in various seven-on-seven drills and training camps.
Weighing in at 5-foot-11, 255 pounds, Clemmons has already received a Division I scholarship offer. According to Youth1, the hulking freshman is among the nation’s top prospects, and should be a disruptive force in the trenches.
Lee, on the other hand, ought to establish himself as one of quarterback Anthony Richardson’s favorite targets. The younger brother of Vanderbilt standout Ralph Webb, Lee was recently recognized as 8th grade MVP at FSG’s Jacksonville camp.
“Now, I think, we’re honestly (ready) to start talking playoffs,” Daniels said. “I think that’s a realistic goal for us.
“How far we make it, no one knows. It’s based on us.”