By Kyle LoJacono
The Wesley Chapel football team lost a pair of starters to transfers during the last month, but the Wildcats are not scrambling to fill the void going into their first game on Friday.
Sophomore quarterback Alex McGough and senior athlete Devon Henry left for Gaither and Freedom, respectively. McGough had 418 passing yards with one touchdown last year, while Henry posted 481 rushing and 230 receiving yards with six total scores.
Second-year Wesley Chapel coach Ben Alford has found the players to fill in and feels comfortable with the 80 players he has.
“We still have a lot of talent,” Alford said. “Alex leaving, I don’t think we fall off under center with Keegan Tanner. He’s a senior and has all the leadership characteristics you want and will bring something different to the table.”
Tanner played quarterback on the junior varsity squad as a freshman and on varsity as a sophomore, but moved to cornerback last year. Tanner said he plans to use his experience as a defender to his advantage.
“When I’m at quarterback I can think about what I was trying to do when I was a cornerback,” Tanner said. “I know what coverages look like and what the defensive backs are going to do.”
Alford is also happy with the playmakers.
“Devon Henry was a big player, but we’ve got Devin Piper who has done great work this offseason and should fill in at running back,” Alford said. “Then we’ve got DeQuane Anderson, Sasha Mentor and some other guys who can make things happen.”
The transfers also forced Anderson, a junior, to change positions.
“When Devon left I just thought wow, we need somebody to step up on offense,” said Anderson, who will play running back. “I didn’t think it was going to be me because I was going to play defense this year. When coach asked me to move back to offense I knew I would have to work even harder.”
Mentor, a senior wide receiver, also relishes his chance to have a bigger role on the squad this year after having three catches for 14 yards last season.
“We’re really confident, especially because our quarterback is Keegan Tanner,” Mentor said. “He was our quarterback two years ago, so it’s nothing new to him. We don’t miss a beat because he knows all the wide receivers, how fast we are and how we run routes.”
Tanner has similar sentiments about the playmakers around him.
“We’re not going to worry about the transfers,” Tanner said. “We’re just going to concentrate on who we have here, and the guys we have here are really good players. I think the offense can take the next step even without them.”
The Wildcats lost two important parts of their offense, but the defense remained nearly untouched by transfers.
“Defensively I feel really confident,” Alford said. “We’ve got a lot of seniors on the defense with Angel Locicero, Angel Ramos, a cornerback named Chris Matter who is 6-foot-3 and can really cover guys. He’s the real deal at corner.”
Another reason for the team’s confidence is the players have a year of experience with coach Alford.
“Now he doesn’t have to stop and explain what every word in a playcall means,” Mentor said. “We just know what to run. Everyone isn’t confused, and that means we can get more done in practice.”
Things may be easier mentally, but Alford has not been light on the workouts and discipline.
“I came in last year, and I don’t want to say I took it easy on them, but we did a little bit because I thought that would be unfair to the seniors to come in and lay down the law on them,” Alford said. “This year they understand and are in line.”
Alford has been asking for little things to see which players pay close attention to detail. One example was he asked everyone to wear their shirts inside out the day before a practice.
“Every one of them did it without the coaches having to ask them to do it today,” Alford said. “It sounds silly to them, but they didn’t ask why. If you can follow simple directions like that, it shows discipline and togetherness.”
Alford said the team is “100 times better than this time last year.”
The Wildcats will host cross-town rival Wiregrass Ranch to open the regular season on Friday, Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m.
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