High-flying offense and new spirit comes with new coach
By Kyle LoJacono
For years Wesley Chapel High was a running football team, but the Wildcats are poised to change that distinction this season.
Much of that shift comes with new coach Ben Alford, who grew up in Dade City and was a quarterback at Pasco High.
“We’re going to throw the ball a little more than they have in the past,” Alford said. “We’re still going to run the ball so we keep the defense honest and then we can decide when to go down the field.”
Before this year Wesley Chapel mainly used the wing-t offense under former coach John Castelamare, who had been the only coach since the school opened in 1999.
“He did great things with this program and some of the things he’s done here and in the community are terrific,” Alford said of Castelamare. “I just hope I can do a lot of the same things, but I’ll do things a little differently to add up to the same thing.”
Alford plans to use a variation of the spread offense, which uses three-five receivers on most plays. Many offensive players have enjoyed the switch.
“We ran the ball a lot and as a receiver you mostly block in the wing-t,” said senior wide receiver Patrick Jackson. “In the spread more people get the ball and we feel more a part of the offense.”
Fellow wide receiver and running back Devon Henry, a junior, agrees with Jackson.
“In spread you get the ball with more space to work with,” Henry said. “When we did throw last year it was short passes with the defense all over us.”
Henry is also a corner back and will be one of the defensive leaders with senior linebacker Jake Fisher.
“I think our defense will be a strong point for us,” Fisher said. “We had a couple of rough years, but we’re ready to get out there and shut other teams down.”
Last season Wesley Chapel was 3-7. Castelamare was forced to retire after the year, which was his fifth in the deferred retirement option program. Alford was hired in the spring.
“Coming in during the spring I thought these kids grasped (the offense) enough,” Alford said. “So we’re throwing everything at them in the first week when most teams put two or three things in until they get used to the offense.”
The Wildcats are in Class 3A, District 7, which has been won the last three years by Pasco. In addition, Land O’ Lakes has made the playoffs from the district for a Pasco County record 13 straight years.
“The competition is good,” Alford said. “There’re going to be a lot of good ball games played this year.
“We have to believe we can beat Zephyrhills, Land O’ Lakes, Wiregrass (Ranch) and Pasco,” Alford continued. “They had a tough season last year, so we need to get their confidence up. We’re a young team. We’ve only got three seniors who are probably going to start, so everyone else are juniors, sophomores and a couple freshmen who I think can help our varsity team.”
Alford graduated from Pasco in 2003. During his time with the Pirates he never beat Wesley Chapel except his freshman year on junior varsity. Current Pasco coach Tom McHugh was the Wildcats defensive coordinator during that time.
“At the time, like a lot of high school kids, I didn’t know who the defensive coordinator was,” Alford said. “I knew the head coach. I knew coach (Castelamare). Now I know coach McHugh and he does a great job at Pasco and he probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves for all the games he’s won up there the last few years. He’s one of the elite coaches in the county and we want to be able to compete against them.”
Alford is an adapted physical education teacher at Wesley Chapel.
“I really enjoyed volunteering with the Special Olympics,” Alford said. “Those kids need a lot of help too and I love doing that. I take pride doing that stuff. When I was offered the position I was so happy. I didn’t give it a second thought.”
Wesley Chapel hosted half of the county’s Special Olympics games for the first time in the spring and Alford is hoping many of his players volunteer with the program.
In addition to that future community service, the Wildcats have made several trips to give a fresh coat of paint at the old San Antonio Boys Village.
The Wildcats will start the season Sept. 3 in Wesley Chapel against Clearwater Central Catholic High.
“The seniors are looking to go out with a bang,” Jackson said. “We want to be over .500, win the district and go deep in the playoffs. I think we have a good shot to make a run at states. We expect big things.”