As first-year Wesley Chapel coach Tico Hernandez tries to get his 35 players to buy into his philosophies, he’s making the Wildcats earn their stripes. • “So many times with kids, everything’s given to them,” said Hernandez, who took over after Ben Alford resigned. • “That’s not the way the real world is. You’ve got to earn stuff.”
Here’s how Hernandez is making them do it. When a player does something good, he earns a blue stripe on his helmet. The good deed can come from hard work in practice, complimenting a teammate, being praised by a teacher or performing community service.
“The goal is for them to give everything they have to the family, to the team,” said Hernandez, a former Wiregrass Ranch assistant. “As we do that, it’s a little bit of a reward.”
One player expected to earn some stripes on the field this fall is running back/defensive end Alex Greer. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior had 33 tackles and 2.5 sacks on defense last fall but carried only once for 1 yard.
In practice last week, he crashed through openings and plowed over defenders in what could be a preview of things to come.
“He’s a man,” Hernandez said.
The Wildcats remain unsettled at quarterback near the end of spring. Sophomore Scott Edwards and senior Xavier Toro are vying to start, and Hernandez said both have done everything coaches have asked of them. Hernandez plans to name a starter at the end of the spring.
The interjection said it all.
Jeremy Gruerio, the lone returning starter on Mitchell’s offensive line, didn’t mean to interrupt his coach Wednesday. But when Scott Schmitz started talking about the new element Mitchell hopes to add to its offense, Gruerio couldn’t help but let out an enthusiastic “yeeeeessss” while nodding in approval. Schmitz said the Mustangs will add some spread offense to their traditional wing-T approach.
But it sounds like it might take longer than the spring to fully integrate.
“It is different. We’re trying to marry the wing-T with some of what Oregon and West Virginia do,” he said.
The first chance to see the Mustangs’ effort come together is Thursday against Hudson.
“A lot is on me. I kind of have to show everybody what it’s all about,” said Gruerio, the rising senior leader of the line.
Being best friends with two of the new starters (Zac Curtis and JD Hoppes) will help.
Thursday’s game may also give Schmitz a clearer picture at quarterback. Last year’s varsity backup, Taylor Schneider, and JV starter Alex Lambert are currently his “1A and 1B.” Schneider is a lefty and seems more apt to take off running.
Both showed strong arms during Wednesday’s practice. And both lined up — Mustangs fans might want to be seated — in the shotgun formation at times.
“We’re still a wing-T team but we’re trying to add a little to it,” Schmitz said. “Neither of those guys are great throwers, but they can help us with what we’re trying to do, which is add that new dimension.”
By the numbers: Hernando LB/RB Jeremiah Jackson
1,209 Combined rushing yards as a sophomore and junior
250 Career tackles
132 Tackles as a junior — among the most on the North Suncoast
33.5 Combined tackles for loss the past two seasons
15 Varsity TDs scored in three seasons
3 Interceptions as a junior, including a game-saving pick against Sunlake
1 Standing college offers (UMass, as a running back)
As Nature Coast prepares for Friday’s spring game against Tarpon Springs, the Sharks are still figuring out some wrinkles on offense.
Regardless of who wins the quarterback battle or how NCT adjusts to a system that could include more passing, the Sharks have found a strong cornerstone in lineman Christian Pellage.
“Pellage, to me, is the biggest surprise, the biggest gain of all of them,” coach Charles Liggett said. “He is so much stronger from head to toe now than he was just in January.”
Pellage was listed as a 6-foot-7, 215-pound sophomore last fall and impressed recruiters from Iowa State and Virginia during Wednesday’s practice.
Miami, Louisville, Iowa State and West Virginia are the latest schools to offer Nature Coast defensive end Rohan Blackwood. The Hurricanes are the first of the state’s big three programs to extend an offer.
• Since Friday, Weeki Wachee offensive lineman Marcus Applefield has added offers from Missouri, Syracuse, Georgia Tech and South Alabama.
• Ole Miss and Kentucky became the fifth and sixth SEC programs to offer Pasco receiver Nate Craig, one of the state’s top prospects for the class of 2016. He also added offers from Indiana and Georgia Tech.
• Hernando offensive lineman Connor Foradas landed an offer from Wofford, the 6-5, 300-pound senior said in a text message.
“They’re hungry. They want things to change.” — Gulf coach Jason Messamore
“He’s not a Breida, but that man, he’s got some moves.” — Nature Coast defensive end Rohan Blackwood on DeShawn Smith, a speedy sophomore who will likely take some of the carries lost by graduating senior Matt Breida
On tap Friday
• Pasco at Land O’Lakes, 7 p.m.
• Hudson at Mitchell, 7 p.m.
• River Ridge at Fivay, 7 p.m.
Correspondent Darek Sharp contributed to this report.