With injuries slowing down Cocoa’s leading rusher Javian Hawkins, it became time for Willie Gaines to step up, just as the playoffs were beginning.

“I really don’t have to say much,” head coach John Wilkinson said. “Those guys like the ball in their hands, they like to make plays, I don’t really have to say anything. We have to have the next man up mentality and realize that football is a collision sport and you’re going to get dinged.”

“Coach told me I need to do what I need to do because I usually play slot but since Javian went down I had to play running back,” said Gaines. “So I stepped up when he needed me.”

Stepped up is an understatement. Last week in the 4A state semifinal Gaines carried the ball 33 times for 270 yards and two touchdowns. But in a true team first mentality he doesn’t take all the credit.

“It all started up front with my O-Line, they gave me the holes, and I saw them and hit them,” Gaines added.

“In the beginning of the season it was a lot of Hawkins getting 20-25 carries, and Willie had 5-10 touches, so he’s well rested if you look at it that way, said Wilkinson.

“He knew that we needed him and that it was his time, he’s been patiently waiting and that’s one of the things that I like about him and most of our kids, it doesn't matter who gets the credit as long as we win.”

And now one more win is all the Tigers need to claim back to back state championships. Gaines transferred to Cocoa this year so he wasn’t a part of last seasons success. Now that he’s here the junior is ready to make the most of his opportunities.

“It’s a good experience for me because this is my first time making it to state and they’ve been there so they tell me to keep the same attitude I’ve had all year and we’re going to get there."

"Because I know what I’m going to do and I know what my team is going to do and we all just have to work together and we’ll get it done.”

To bring gold back to Cocoa once again.