By Kyle LoJacono
The Wesley Chapel football team last made the playoffs in 2004 with a 7-2 record.
Second-year coach Ben Alford isn’t making any bold predictions about a return to the postseason, but he forecasts experience and veteran leadership will put the Wildcats on the right path.
“We have to start doing the little things,” Alford said. “Last year we lost two games by three points and we were in the last game of the year against Gulf and made some mental mistakes at the end. Those are the kind of things an older team doesn’t do. We’re a much older team, so we’re hoping to be on the right side of those close games.
“They’re learning from those little things we did wrong last year,” Alford continued. “Those little things as individuals and as a team. It’s those things that make a losing team into a winning team. I know I don’t want to go 3-7 again this year and I don’t think these players do either.”
Part of the struggle last year came from big changes in the offensive system. John Castelamare coached the program until Alford took over and ran a run-heavy Wing-T. Alford wanted to put in a spread offense based on passing, which may have been too radical of a change last season.
“It’s definitely easier right now that the kids have had more time with the offense,” Alford said. “I think we might have changed things up a little too much offensively. Right now we’re working to run a certain amount of plays very well and make sure those are run right. If you run three plays perfect, that’s better than 100 plays that are average or just ok.”
Freshman quarterback Alex McGough was given the task of running that offense last season, completing 42 of 102 passes for 418 yards and one touchdown.
“I feel a lot better in the offense and I’m just trying to keep getting better,” McGough said. “I want to be a lot better next year than I was this season. I want to get better with my offensive line, receivers and running backs so we can have a better season.”
Alford was a quarterback at Pasco High and his teaching has added to McGough’s comfort level in the offense.
One of the offensive weapons for McGough will be junior wide receiver Keegan Tanner. He had nine catches for 33 yards in 2010 when he was mostly a defensive back, recording 41 tackles. He is expecting more yards and points from everyone next season.
“Now that we know the offense, it’s a lot easier,” Tanner said. “Before (coach) would have to explain every play and what we needed to do. Now we can huddle up and call the play and everyone knows what to do. It’s a lot easier and we can do more in practice.”
The Wildcats will need to find someone to step in for graduating senior linebacker Jake Fisher, who led the team with 120 tackles and recently signed to play football at Beloit College in Wisconsin.
“You can’t replace a Jake Fisher,” Alford said. “He was such a huge part of our team. His younger brother Luke is a totally different player than Jake, but we expect him to be just as important to our defense.”
Luke, a junior linebacker, had 43 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two interceptions and has learned a lot from his brother.
“He taught me to be fearless and go hard after the ball on every play,” Fisher said. He then added, “I think I’m going to have to be more vocal to tell people what they need to do on the field. That way there is no confusion.”
On the defensive front, sophomore Hunter Robinson had 36 tackles. The defensive end said a new mental state will also be key if the team is to make a turnaround in 2011.
“I think it’s a lot about mentality,” Robinson said. “Last year I think everyone expected us to be bad because we had a new coach and a lot of young players. We didn’t have a lot of energy and we focused more on the other team than ourselves. We have to worry about us and put everything out on the field.”
The Wildcats will host Tarpon Springs on Thursday, May 26 at 7 p.m. for their spring game.
“It’s really big to win the spring game,” Fisher said. “If we could get a victory, it would be a boost for us and motivate the younger players to keep working in the summer.”
–All stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches.
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