Like every high school football team in the Tampa Bay area, Wesley Chapel High (WCH) came into spring practice with a number of important questions.
On May 18, however, the Wildcats may have answered their most important question during their 31-14 spring football victory over Mitchell High, based in the Trinity area of New Port Richey.
After a three-way battle to replace last year’s starting quarterback Jacob Thomas, second-year Wildcats coach Anthony Egan declared Isaiah Bolden the winner of a three-way battle with senior Tyler Wittish and junior Jelani Vassel to call his signals during the 2017 football season, which begins in August.
All Bolden did was go out and threw for a touchdown and run for another in the victory by the Wildcats over Mitchell. WCH is coming off a 7-2 record in 2016, their most successful season since 2004.
“He (Bolden) started looking really good in 7-on-7s this season, so I thought we should give him a shot, see what happens,” Egan said.
While Egan also says he liked what he saw in Whittish and Vassel, it was hard to resist the temptation of putting his best athlete under center. An oral commitment to the University of Oregon in Eugene (ranked 21st in the nation by an Athlon Sports preseason poll), after initially committing to Florida State University in Tallahassee, Bolden is another threat in a backfield filled with guys who are a threat to score every time they touch the ball.
And, it’s no secret that the Wildcats want to get Bolden more touches. He had nearly 500 return yards last season, including three touchdowns (two on kickoffs and one on a punt return), but with Thomas under center and the Wildcats committed to the running game, Bolden was limited on offense.
WCH attempted fewer than eight passes a game in 2016 despite having Jacob Thomas, the county’s leading passer the year before, under center. Bolden may not throw much more than that, but expect those attempts to be a lot more exciting, as the future Duck opens things up, whether he throws the ball or tucks it under and runs. Bolden has high-level speed and his presence under center will pull attention away from the Wildcats’ receivers and backs, who are already talented and numerous.
Bolden threw for 95 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown pass to Justin Trapnell, to give WCH a 10-7 lead over Mitchell at halftime in the spring game.
Bolden won’t have to do it all, if the spring game is any indication. With a number of talented skill players returning, as well as a good group of linemen, the Wildcats seem poised to take another step in 2017, which kicks off with a home game Aug. 18 against Land O’Lakes.
Dexter Leverett, who ran for 1,249 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2016 and had 100+ yards in all nine of his starts, ran for 55 yards against Mitchell, and also led the way with some key blocks.
“Us backs, we have to take care of each other,” Leverett said. “Everyone has to do their thing.”
Malik Melvin ran for 123 yards in the spring game on eight carries, with two scores. He is a rising star and would likely be the main guy on a different team, and is coming off a solid 2016 campaign.
“If you take one thing from our backfield, it’s unselfishness,” Coach Egan said. “They want to block for each other. Now we have three or four guys who want to do it.”
About the only bad news out of the Wildcats vaunted backfield this spring was the expected loss of sophomore Keith Walker, who ran for 48 yards on four carries with a TD but is zoned to attend Cypress Creek in the fall.
The WCH defense looked a little wobbly out of the gates in the spring game, giving up a three-play, 64-yard drive, but tightened up and didn’t allow another score the rest of the way (Mitchell’s second, and final, touchdown came on a kick return).
Do-everything defensive lineman Austen Wittish is the only returning starter from the 2016 front seven. He led the team in tackles last year with 93, including four for a loss of yards. The Wildcats’ success this season could hinge on how Wittish, his brother Tyler (a junior), seniors Andrew Brooks and Matt Severson and junior Ben Thomas can gel. Egan mentioned Chase Harris and Nick Hoffman as guys who will factor into the defensive alignment in 2017.
“It’s the same system but we’ll have six new guys up front this year,” Egan said.