Over the next two weeks, we’ll pose and answer a question a day about the upcoming football season. Have a topic you think needs to be addressed? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How will Wiregrass Ranch respond after its first district title?
The Bulls broke through last fall, but the road to the playoffs will be tough in Class 7A, District 7 against Hillsborough County foes like Tampa Bay Tech and Gaither. Wiregrass Ranch went 6-5 in 2010 but must replace quarterback James Tringali, leading rusher Nick Lomba and top receiver Antwan Prince. How will Jeremy Shobe’s team follow up a playoff berth this fall?
What they’re saying
Shobe: “Our expectations are to compete in the district and try to make the playoffs. We’re the defending district champs, so we’ve got high expectations. Once you get there, you don’t want to step back. …
“For the last three years, we’ve had 23 and 26 seniors. We lost a 1,400-yard rusher the year before. Each school is going to have to deal with that year in and year out. …
“We have to come to work each week with getting the right guys in the right spots and not making mistakes a young football team is likely to make. We’re going to have to play to the best of our abilities and not make a lot of mistakes week in and week out, not turn the ball over, not give up big plays on defense, have good special teams and play well in all facets of the game.”
What we’re saying
Matt Baker: Wiregrass Ranch should be accustomed to replacing players by now. The Bulls have had two large senior classes in a row. One major story line last season was how they’d replace so many players on defense, and they still came away with a district title and six victories.
But this is a different year. Wiregrass has only 12 or 13 seniors, so youth is a concern. With younger players come mental mistakes, which are easier to get away with against teams like Zephyrhills than teams like Gaither.
Quarterback Jake Day is extremely athletic but still needs to improve his decision making and accuracy. He’s got the ability to develop into a hard-to-contain playmaker, but can he do so in his first year as a starter?
The Bulls are making progress as Shobe tries to build the program. A playmaker like receiver/tight end Chase Belisle helps, too.
Early games against rival Wesley Chapel, Sunlake and a strong Pasco team should provide opportunities for growth. But Wiregrass loses too much talent and replaces it with too few reps to expect another trip to the playoffs. A .500 record would be a big accomplishment but isn’t out of the question.
John C. Cotey: Though I saw the Bulls’ spring game loss to Land O’Lakes, and it wasn’t pretty, I saw enough during the summer to think they may be okay.
Day has a ways to go but he improved, and running back Jamel Nunez could be a difference maker. But last year, the Bulls were the beneficiary of a soft schedule, beating a winless team, two 2-8 teams, a 4-6 team and Fivay, which was pretty much a junior varsity team.
To their credit, the Bulls won the one that counted against Tarpon Springs, but even the Spongers had a losing record. This year’s schedule? Not many soft touches, and even those that could be considered as such are better than they were last year.
No question the Bulls will give some of the better teams a tough time, but they will be hard-pressed to avoid the cellar in 7A-7 in a rebuilding season that should set the table for 2012.
Also in this series: