Zephyrhills High first-year football coach Nick Carroll took over a program in turmoil when he was hired nearly three months ago.
He took the job in February amidst a report of an on-campus sex scandal implicating some of the team’s players, and was dealt another blow last month when news broke that its top offensive player had torn his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament during) during a football camp.
Running back Antwione Sims, who is set to begin his senior year, ran for a school-record 2,093 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. But, he will likely miss a significant portion of the 2016 season.
The 5-foot-11, 196-pound Sims—a Rivals.com two-star recruit with multiple college scholarship offers—accounted for nearly 57 percent of the Bulldog’s total offense last season.
“He’s taking care of it,” Carroll said in regards to Sims’ injury. “He’s going to get on the field as fast as he can. I know he’s very, very motivated.”
After losing one of the top skill players in Pasco County, Carroll is more focused on the players who are healthy, as he prepares his squad for the upcoming season.
“We’re going to pick up the pieces and find other playmakers,” said Carroll, who replaced veteran Bulldogs’ coach Reginald Roberts. “I got faith in the kids that are here. They want this opportunity just like any other kid does, and I think we’re going to be okay.”
One player that brings intrigue as a possible replacement for Sims at the running back position is Elijah Thomas, who will be a junior.
Thomas, a 5-foot-6, 150-pound scat back, was the team’s third leading rusher last season after totaling 222 yards on 18 carries (12.3 yards per carry). What he lacks in size, he more than makes up in speed—evident by his track results this spring.
Competing in the Sunshine Athletic Conference East track meet, the sophomore sprinter placed third in the 100-meter dash (11.26 seconds) and fourth in the 200 meters (23.81).
While Carroll certainly has a capable rusher in Thomas, the Zephyrhills coach acknowledged his staff must “mix up” the offense and create a more balanced attack to stifle opponents.
That philosophy places additional pressure on incumbent senior quarterback Charles Harrison III, who threw for 634 yards and 12 touchdowns, but completed only 45 percent of his passes.
Other players that may get looks at quarterback include rising senior Nick Loss, junior Jake Adams and freshman Dylan Wood.
Whomever starts at quarterback will also have to build a rapport with some new pass-catching threats with the impeding graduation of Jackie Tucker, who was last year’s leading wideout (24 receptions for 477 yards and 9 touchdowns).
Carroll said receivers Ja’quan Sheppard and Tre’pavis Mobley, who will be sophomores, have stood out thus far in offseason workouts. Those workouts have consisted of extensive weightlifting, speed and agility training, and route running drills.
“There’s some young kids that are really doing well against the air this spring, and we’re excited,” the head coach said. “We have been putting our time in and watching kids work on the field in regards to how competitive they are and seeing (them) compete against one another.”
Another receiving option that may figure into the equation is rising senior Darius Causey, who didn’t get playing time last year.
“He’s working hard in the weight room,” Carroll said. “He’s 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3, and we’re looking at him to make some plays as well.”
Despite the injury to his top player and being tasked with trying to build trust as a new coach, Carroll has been very satisfied with what he’s seen from the roster since taking over the program.
“I’ve been really happy with how the kids have come together and the work they’ve put in as a team,” he said. “They’ve gotten a lot stronger. They are coming together as one.
“Now, we’re just excited for the opportunity to put it on the field and get things rolling,” Carroll said.
Published April 27, 2016