By Kyle LoJacono
When veteran coach John Castelamare took over the Academy at the Lakes six-man football program two years ago he had to unlearn many of the things he had done for decades.
Things should be much more familiar this fall as the Wildcats (10-2) move up to seven-man football, which uses traditional rules.
“Everything is the same except the size of the field is still 80 yards,” said Castelamare, who has coached for 41 years. “Those six-man rules were chaotic. No more double handoffs, the linemen have to stay at the line and the quarterback can do QB sneaks.”
The academy has used the run-heavy wing-t offense since Castelamare came from Wesley Chapel two years ago despite the limitations six-man football put on his play calling.
“I made mistakes out there too,” Castelamare said. “We’d be at the one-yard line and I’d want to quarterback sneak. Sometimes they had to remind me we couldn’t do that.”
The Wildcats reached the state quarterfinals last year with the limited playbook, which is one reason the returning players are excited about the possibilities with seven-man rules.
“Moving up to seven-man is perfectly suited for us with the rules and the players we have,” said sophomore center Isaac Kloeotek. He added, “I watch a lot of football, and sometimes out there you just go on instinct. This makes it easier.”
The academy will have to find a replacement for the most prolific offensive player in program history. Fullback Jarrett Harvey ran for 1,558 yards on 100 carries while finding the end zone 42 times, 40 on the ground.
Harvey will be running the ball at Webber International University in Babson Park this fall after becoming the first male athlete from the private school to sign with a college. Castelamare said the departure leaves a big void, but predicts the offense can be as good with a more loaded backfield.
“We’ve got four players this year who can do some things, where it was a lot on Jarrett last year,” Castelamare said. “We’ll be more balanced, and the offensive line should be pretty good. They’ve been there for two years, and they all come back.”
The guy slotted to move in at starting fullback is 6-foot-3, 200-pound sophomore Evan Gordy, who had 15 carries for 113 yards and three touchdowns last year.
“I feel like I’m really blessed to get to move into his spot,” Gordy said. “Jarrett did amazing. I feel like I can step up to the challenge. He played that position really well, so I’ve got some big shoes to fill.”
Returning at wingback is 5-foot-8, 150-pound sophomore Ahkil McGill, who racked up 624 yards and eight scores on 39 carries in 2011. At quarterback is the towering 6-foot-5, 185-pound freshman Max Stepanets, who will also be a weapon running the ball.
“I see Ahkil making some plays because he’s really quick,” Stepanets said. “Evan, he’s a mountain and when he’s running straight ahead he’s tough to stop.”
Castelamare will also have more options to rotate in now thanks to the program’s growth.
“They’re getting stronger and more athletic,” Castelamare said. “We’re also getting some kids coming from other schools. It’s taken a little time. We had eight kids my first spring, now we’ve got 18 to 20. Last year we had a good squad, but they had to play defense and offense. After a quarter and a half we’d be breathing hard. It was pretty tough.”
Wildcats athletic director Tom Haslam said they were debating dropping the football program before Castelamare took over.
“We weren’t pulling the plug yet, but there were discussions,” Haslam said. “Now there’s a lot of excitement and kids who want to play.”
The academy will start its assault on the 61-team league this August in search for a championship to put next to the six-man state title claimed in 2006.
“I’m really excited,” Stepanets said. “I’m working on it 24/7 getting ready to get out there and show what we can do.”
–Stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches