The Wiregrass Ranch High (WRH) football team will arguably be one of the top two or three teams in Pasco County, but that does them little good when it comes to making the playoffs because they play in Class 7A-District 8, which also includes Hillsborough County powers Plant, Sickles, Gaither and Wharton.
So why not cap the spring football season against, well, another tough Hillsborough County team? That was third-year head coach Mark Kantor’s thinking as the Bulls fell behind 33-13 in the fourth quarter before rallying back and falling just a little short in a 33-27 loss to Tampa Catholic (TC) on May 19.
“You don’t know what it’s like going against them (Hillsborough County teams) until you actually line up against them,” Kantor said. “These kids are seasoned guys now and they’ve learned so much.”
Spring offered some challenges for the Bulls, who are coming off their most successful season after a 7-3 record earned them a spot in the Class 7A playoffs last season, their first postseason appearance since 2010.
To get back to the playoffs, one of the Bulls’ primary focuses in the spring was on replacing multi-facted quarterback Chris Faddoul, who signed to play for Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. Faddoul made the lion’s share of the Bulls’ pass attempts in 2016, was third on the team in rushing and was their primary punter and place kicker. Replacing him is like replacing 3-4 players, but the Bulls have a deep roster (43 for the spring) and a lot of candidates.
Junior Grant Sessums, who threw only 28 passes in 2016, took all of the passing attempts in the spring game against TC. He was harried by the Crusaders’ defense and threw thee interceptions, but also threw for two touchdowns and ran for another.
Rising junior Raymond Woodie III comes over from playing QB at Carrollwood Day School (CDS), but played free safety in the TC game, picking off a pass and running it back 40 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Woodie, a contrast to Sessum’s pocket-style passing, threw for 543 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore for CDS, and already boasts 16 college offers from the likes of the University of Southern California, Penn State University, Michigan State University and the University of South Florida.
His recent transfer to WRH left him out of the quarterback spot for the spring game as he learns the playbook, but Woodie could end up sharing time under center with Sessums.
“He (Woodie) adds another dimension,” Kantor said. “He’s tough, athletic and wants to help the team.”
He’ll also strengthen a running game led by senior Daquion “Da Da” McGee, who rushed for 1,063 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns last year but found tough sledding against TC, rushing 13 times for minimal gains.
His counterpart in the backfield is fullback Chase Oliver, a 5’-9”, 210-lb. sledgehammer.
“Chase is a throwback football player,” Kantor said. “If he played in the ‘60s, he’d be an All-American.”
On the Bulls’ first drive against TC, Oliver steamrolled a Crusader defender for 11 yards and a first down. On the second drive, he caught a short pass and rumbled 54 yards, clobbering defenders to set up a short score. He finished with five touches for 82 yards in the spring game, although he never found the end zone.
The WRH coaches are careful not to run Oliver too much, as they also need him on defense, where he starts at linebacker. “It’s challenging (playing both ways) but I have to lead by example,” said Oliver, who is emerging as one of the team’s veteran voices. He says he was pleased with the late charge by the Bulls vs. TC.
“You can’t go to sleep, you have to play a complete game,” Oliver said. “I like the way we fought back from 33-13.”
Speaking of veteran leadership, the Bulls’ QBs will have the luxury of having a senior-heavy receiving corps. Leading receivers Adrian Thomas and Jacob Hill return after more than 400 yards between them in 2016. Rising senior Jordan Miner is a threat at wideout and at defensive back. Daniel Biglow and Shamaur McDowell also are good-sized, veteran receivers.
McDowell, Miner and Woodie give the Bulls the most recruited trio of teammates in Pasco County.
The Bulls also got a great showing in the spring game from senior Devaun Roberts. He set a high bar for himself against TC, picking up two sacks, a tackle for loss, a fumble recovery, a pass defended and a quarterback pressure from his defensive end position. “This is my first year at defensive end,’’ Roberts said. “I’m used to playing tight end though, so now that I’m lined up over the tight end a lot, I know the blocks. It felt good to get in there and scare that quarterback. We’re going to do well this year.”
Behind Roberts are two big, set pieces who certainly look like dominant linemen. Lenczden, whose measurements are not listed on the roster, is roughly 6’-6” and 260 pounds. Senior Nkem Asomba is listed at 6’-5”, 265. “He’s actually a basketball player, football is new to him,” Kantor said of Asomba. “He’s shown some athleticism and that he can play this sport.”