Coach: Tico Hernandez (second season, 0-10)
Last season: 0-10
Colors: Navy, light blue and white
Stadium: Wildcat Stadium, 30651 Wells Road, Wesley Chapel
Playoff history: 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004
Last appearance: Lost 30-19 to Jesuit
Aug. 29 at Zephyrhills, 7:30
Sept. 5 vs. Lecanto, 7:30
Sept. 12 vs. Pasco, 7:30
Sept. 19 at Hudson, 7:30
Oct. 3 vs. Ridgewood, 7:30
Oct. 10 vs. Sunlake, 7:30
Oct. 17 at River Ridge, 7:30
Oct. 24 vs. Anclote, 7:30
Oct. 31 vs. Gulf, 7:30
Nov. 7 at Wiregrass Ranch, 7:30
Mark your calendar
Wesley Chapel at Wiregrass Ranch, Nov. 7: The regular-season finale between the bitter rivals will have a little more meaning this season. After dominating Wiregrass Ranch by a combined 139-52 in each of their six previous meetings, the Wildcats lost to the Bulls last season by two touchdowns to complete the first winless season in the program’s 14-year history. It may be a difficult task to topple Wiregrass on the road, but Wesley Chapel will be hungry for revenge.
Revisiting the glory days: Inside Wesley Chapel’s locker room, coach Tico Hernandez has placed an old blue and white sign atop a row of lockers that reads “2004 District Champions.” This season marks a decade since the program’s last playoff appearance, and Hernandez hopes the sign will serve as extra motivation for his young team to play harder and win a game for the first time since Nov. 2, 2012 (34-0 over Gulf).
By the numbers: Hernandez said between JV and varsity, around 80-90 players have come out for the fall. That’s a substantial increase from just two years ago when — under former coach Ben Alford — Wesley Chapel fielded only 26 players against Wiregrass Ranch in a spring jamboree.
Sizing up: In the offseason, Hernandez and his assistants implemented a weightlifting test for players to measure their clean and jerk, squats and bench press. Hernandez said the competitiveness of the challenge has led to an improvement to the team’s overall size and strength.
Academic success: Though the Wildcats may have struggled on the field last season, Hernandez said, as a whole, he was pleased with his players’ discipline and performance in the classroom. “We had kids go a semester without any trouble and that’s a victory for them. We have kids not going to summer school for the first time and that’s a victory for them,” he said.
Advice from a legend: Hernandez said he has received plenty of encouraging words and advice from Wesley Chapel’s first coach, John Castelamare, who started the program in 1999 and led it to three district titles in 10 years. Hernandez called Castelamare, 65, who recently retired after a 43-year career, a “great ambassador for the game” and “one of the best coaches” to have worked in the bay area.
QB Scott Edwards, Jr.: Hernandez said Edwards has grown into one of the team’s biggest leaders. Under center, the second-year starter looks to limit his turnovers (12 interceptions, two fumbles).
RB Alfonso Battle, Jr.: After sitting behind the graduated Mark LaBarbera, Battle didn’t get many reps at running back. Now he is one of the favorites to start at a position that Hernandez said is six to seven players deep on the depth chart.
OL Ryan Robinson, Sr.: Robinson (5-11, 190) anchors an offensive line that returns four starters.
DL/OL K’Vaughn Joyner, Sr.: The 211-pound Joyner provides senior leadership on both sides of the ball.
WR/DE Tre’ McKitty, So.: The 6-foot-2 McKitty could emerge as one of the top targets on offense.
QB Austin Sessums, So.: Sessums appeared in two games as a freshman and could push Edwards for playing time.
K Niko Savolidis, So.: A lifelong soccer player, Savolidis said he has developed a passion — and a leg — for football.
“A lot of people gauge success based on the scoreboard. But there are other tangibles as well in the classroom. Yeah, winning is important, but there are lots of other ways we can win. And we’ve done that.” — Hernandez