The 2017 football season is two months away, but one of Pasco County’s top teams already has taken a hit.
In a week’s span, two varsity standouts from Wiregrass Ranch High School — cornerback Shamaur McDowell and quarterback/safety Raymond Woodie III — have exited the rising program, which last season finished Class 7A, District 8 runner-up, making its first playoff appearance since 2010.
On June 16, Woodie III, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound junior, announced he was enrolling at Sheldon High School in Eugene, Oregon, a move that allows him to reconnect with his father, an assistant football coach at the University of Oregon.
“…I would like to thank everyone at Wiregrass for taking me in and giving me the opportunity to be successful on and off the football field,” Woodie III said, in a statement. “I will forever be grateful to the coaches and players, and wish them nothing but the best this season. With that being said, my family and I have decided it is best for me to move out to Oregon with them and attend Sheldon High School.”
Just four days later, McDowell, a 5-foot-11, 184-pound senior, announced his intention to transfer to IMG Academy, a boarding school and sport-training destination in Bradenton.
“My parents and I felt like it was the best decision,” McDowell said, in a statement. “It will allow me to focus on being the best student-athlete I can be. It will also prepare me for the next stage in my life.”
Both are widely regarded as elite prospects for their respective classes.
And, noteworthy losses for Wiregrass Ranch, which figures to be one of the better teams in Pasco in 2017.
Woodie III, who landed at Wiregrass Ranch after transferring from Carrollwood Day School in the offseason, is rated by 247Sports as a three-star prospect and the nation’s eighth-best dual-threat quarterback for the 2019 class, and boasts scholarship offers from over 20 Division I football programs.
McDowell, a three-year varsity player for the Bulls and verbal commit to the University of Minnesota, is rated by 247Sports as a three-star prospect and ranked among the state’s top 300 players for the 2018 class; he also holds scholarship offers from nearly 20 Division I schools.
For McDowell, the transfer to IMG Academy offers an opportunity to further enhance his skills, and raise his national profile.
The academy, ranked as the top prep program in Florida, typically plays a national schedule.
This season, IMG Academy (11-0 in 2016) will play games in Arizona, California, Maryland, Washington D.C., Utah, Alabama and Virginia, facing some of the nation’s other top prep football schools.
Throughout the school year, McDowell will receive training inside state-of-the art facilities from a staff of full-time coaches, trainers and nutritionists.
He will also compete alongside other top talent — IMG’s entire roster is actively recruited by FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) schools.
Meanwhile, the Bulls remain stockpiled with impact players, even with the two departures.
It all starts with senior defensive back Jordan Miner.
The four-star prospect is ranked one of the state’s top 50 players for the 2018 recruiting class, and claims nearly 30 Division I scholarship offers, including Penn State University, University of Maryland, University of North Carolina and University of Tennessee, among others.
Last season for the Bulls, the 6-foot-1, 177-pound Miner tallied 38 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions and 12 passes defensed.
He also racked up nearly 500 all-purpose yards on offense, defense and special teams.
Besides Miner, the Bulls have numerous players with standing college scholarships offers, including wide receiver/safety Daniel Biglow (Fort Lewis College), safety/running back Kwesi Littlejohn (Webber International University), tight end/defensive end Devaun Roberts (Warner University, Webber International) and wide receiver/slot back Adrian Thomas (Webber International).
The return of 1,000-yard rusher Da Da McGee and a potential breakout campaign from junior quarterback Grant Sessums should also help mask the exodus of Woodie III and McDowell.
Save for anymore unforeseen departures from the program, the Bulls look to build on last season’s success, under third-year coach Mark Kantor.
Kantor, who previously coached at Hudson High School, orchestrated an impressive turnaround from 2015 (2-8 record) to 2016 (7-3 record).
But, the upcoming season won’t be easy.
Besides facing tough district opponents like Plant, Gaither and Wharton high schools, the Bulls kick off the 2017 slate against nondistrict opponents Zephyrhills, Wesley Chapel and Sunlake high schools — which went a combined 22-7 last season.
The challenging schedule may come in handy near playoff time, however.
The Florida High School Athletic Association’s new playoff system for football stresses strength of schedule, along with overall record. After the four district champs in Class 7A, Region 2, the other four playoff teams will be determined by a points-based system.
In preparation for the rigors of a demanding 2017 schedule, Kantor arranged a May 19 spring game against Tampa Catholic (33-27 loss) and August 18 preseason classic against Clearwater Central Catholic (9-2 record in 2016).
—Stats were supplied by coaches on Maxpreps.com
Wiregrass Ranch High 2017 football schedule
Aug. 18 – at Clearwater Central Catholic
Aug. 25 – Zephyrhills High School
Sept. 1- at Wesley Chapel High School
Sept. 8 – Sunlake High School
Sept. 15 – at Sickles High School
Sept. 22 – Wharton High School
Oct. 6 – at Gaither High School
Oct. 13 — at Freedom High School
Oct. 20 — Leto High School
Oct. 27 — Plant High School
Nov. 3 – at Auburndale High School
Published July 5, 2017