By Kyle LoJacono
Two years ago, the Wiregrass Ranch football team made program history with its first winning season, first district championship and first playoff berth.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, 2011 was historic for the opposite reason — they went winless.
Players and coaches are looking for a quick turnaround to 2010 form.
“We want to prove to everyone that we aren’t the same team we were last year,” said wide receiver/cornerback Jake Day. “It didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but we’ve learned a lot and worked to get better every day since then.”
Fifth-year Wiregrass Ranch coach Jeremy Shobe said it was difficult to replace the 49 combined seniors the program lost from the 2009 and 2010 seasons, but is more hopeful this year.
“I feel like we’ve got more optimism and more confidence,” Shobe said. “The progression we’ve had from a passing standpoint has been huge. We’ve still got a lot of things to work on, but we’re starting to click to be where we need to be.”
Part of that feeling is the fact that the Bulls return some of their standouts from last season. Among those are 2011 leading rusher Eli Galvan (317 yards, one touchdown) and leading receiver Ryan Shea (191 yards, one score).
The squad also gains a dual threat in Day, who was Wiregrass Ranch’s Game 1 starter at quarterback a season ago. He missed several games with concussions, but completed 14-of-58 passes for 226 yards and two scores.
Day, who played cornerback for the Bulls’ district title team, doesn’t mind moving out from under center.
“As long as I’m on the field and helping the team win,” Day said. “Wherever they want me I’ll play.”
Day has also worked with the new top quarterback, Shane Bucenell, who was the junior varsity (JV) signal caller a year ago.
“Me and Jake are good friends now,” Bucenell said. “He’s taught me a lot about what he learned last year and told me how to avoid some of the mistakes he made.”
Shobe said Day’s willingness to play wherever while mentoring Bucenell has helped the team take major strides.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more from Jake Day,” Shobe said. “He’s a phenomenal player. He can go and play at the next level at almost any position on offense and defense. He’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever been around.
Wiregrass Ranch’s offense last year was run-heavy, taking advantage of Day’s ability to take off with the ball. The 6-foot, 180-pound Bucenell is more of a prototypical quarterback, which has opened up the playbook.
“That’s going to be huge, because everyone expected us to run every play last year,” said the 5-foot-11, 165-pound Day. “They loaded up to stop the run. Now we’re just going to throw it right over the top of them.
“Our passing game has tremendously improved,” Day continued. “When we started the summer in 7 on 7 we’d score maybe one touchdown a game. By the end we’re scoring every drive. … I have complete faith in (Bucenell). I think he’s going to have a great year.”
Shobe said Bucenell will be able to turn heads quickly.
“There’s not many 10th-graders in this area who have the tools that he has,” Shobe said. “You’re going to see his name for a long time to come.”
Bucenell said going through several camps and the North Suncoast 7 on 7 Passing League has helped him develop timing with his new receivers. That, plus determination to get back to the program’s winning ways has the quarterback excited about 2012.
“We’ve been putting in a lot of work in practice and during this summer,” Bucenell said. “The wide receivers are working hard; the offensive line is working hard. We’re looking a lot better than we did last year, definitely.”
Wiregrass Ranch schedule
All games start at 7:30 p.m. unless otherwise listed. Home games played at 2909 Mansfield Blvd., Wesley Chapel.
Kickoff classic** Aug. 24 at Mitchell
Aug. 31 vs. Wesley Chapel
Sept. 7 at Sunlake
Sept. 14 vs. Pasco
Sept. 21 at Gaither*
Sept. 28 Bye
Oct. 5 vs. Tampa Bay Tech*
Oct. 12 vs. Countryside
Oct. 19 at Chamberlain*
Oct. 26 at Steinbrenner*
Nov. 2 vs. Freedom*
Nov. 9 at Zephyrhills
*Denotes district contest
**Kickoff at 7 p.m.
2011 Bulls (0-10)
Wesley Chapel L 20-6
Sunlake L 36-0
Pasco L 53-0
Gaither L 39-0
Tampa Bay Tech L 46-7
Countryside L 66-6
Chamberlain L 32-0
Steinbrenner L 56-0
Freedom L 19-13
Zephyrhills L 43-14