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Wiregrass Ranch: 2014 football preview

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Fri. August 15, 2014 | Kelly Parsons

Wiregrass Ranch: 2014 football preview

Wiregrass Ranch

Coach: Artie Meza (first season)

Last season: 4-6

Class/district: 7A-7

Colors: Maroon, silver and white

Stadium: Unnamed. 2909 Mansfield Blvd. Wesley Chapel, FL 33543

Playoff history: 2010

Last appearance: Lost 40-8 to Springstead.

Season schedule 

Aug. 29 vs. Gulf

Sept. 5 at Hudson, 7:30

Sept. 12 at River Ridge, 7:30

Sept. 19 vs. Tampa Bay Tech, 7:30

Oct. 3 vs. Gaither, 7:30

Oct. 10 at Ridgewood, 7:30

Oct. 17 at Steinbrenner, 7:30

Oct. 24 at  Sickles, 7:30

Oct. 31 vs.  Freedom, 7:30

Nov. 7 vs. Wesley Chapel, 7:30

Mark your calendar

Wiregrass Ranch vs. Tampa Bay Tech, Sept. 19: The Bulls open their season with three opponents coming off mediocre 2013 campaigns, so it’s quite likely Wiregrass Ranch could have some success early. The Week 4 matchup against district opponent Tampa Bay Tech, though, could be its first true test. The Bulls lost to the Titans 32-0 last season, but if all the improvements coach Artie Meza swears by take form, Wiregrass Ranch could make a statement against the district title contenders.

Huddle highlights

Quick transition: Meza was hired to take over as head coach on July 24, less than three weeks before practice was set to begin. That being said, the former Pasco High School quarterback said the adjustment has been smooth for the players. Meza was an assistant coach last season at Wiregrass Ranch, and the Bulls return four assistant coaches on defense.“They see familiar faces,” Meza said. “So it wasn’t something where they had to learn a whole new coaching staff, a whole new system.”

Close calls: Though the Bulls finished below .500 in 2013, two of their losses — to Steinbrenner and River Ridge — came down to the final minutes and were decided by a single touchdown. Meza said it’s a fact that gives his guys confidence for the new season, knowing that fixing simple mistakes could easily reverse the outcome. 

Hoops help: Intrigued by the improvements the Bulls made in 2013, three players from the Wiregrass Ranch basketball team — Brandon Mosley, Myles Anderson and Jamarquis Hemphill — are taking their athleticism to the gridiron this season. Meza hopes Anderson and Mosley will help replace the running back talent the Bulls graduated. “You get a little bit of success and people want to come out and play,” Meza said.

Building on success: Last year at this time, the Bulls were preparing for a new season coming off back-to-back winless campaigns. Now that the Bulls have had some success — they won four games in 2013, including the first two games of the season —  Meza said there’s a night-and-day difference in his players’ confidence level. That, he said, can only help the Bulls in their quest to continue the growth.

Conditioning: For the first 20 minutes of Wiregrass Ranch football practice Thursday, the Bulls were running sprints and doing up-downs. The week before, Meza brought in some Marines, who, Meza said, kicked his players’ butts. Meza insists that when games are close, conditioning is key, so its something he’s stressing in his team’s preparation. “(Jimmy Johnson) says, ‘Fatigue makes a coward out of everybody,’” Meza said. “So our big thing from last year to this year to try and continue our growth was conditioning.”

Known quantities

LB Jaye Miner, Sr.: The FAU commit led the district last season with 131 tackles. And though the linebacker corps is young, the 6-foot-3, 187-pound Miner is determined to use his leadership and athletic ability to hold the group together. 

WR Mark Hutchinson, Sr.: FIU commit Mark Hutchinson had seven receptions for 113 yards last season, but as part of an offense that Meza said should work faster than it did last season, the 6-foot-2 receiver will likely make more of an impact this season. 

QB Shane Bucenell, Sr.: Last year Bucenell threw for more than 1,100 yards and six touchdowns while adding more than 200 yards on the ground. But after a summer participating in the 7-on-7 circuit, Meza can’t wait to see what else he can bring this season. Meza said the biggest thing the third-year starting quarterback gained through the experience wasn’t a skill set, but rather confidence in the abilities he already had.

WR Zach Davidson, Sr.: With 194 yards receiving last season, Davidson comes in as the Bulls’ leading returning receiver. But that’s not all the 5-foot-11, 175-pound athlete can do. Davidson also tried his hand at quarterback some last season, completing 6 of 19 pass attempts for 71 yards and a touchdown. 

Up-and-comers

DL/OL Austin Stroup, Sr.: Stroup had 27 tackles, seven for loss last year, and Meza thinks the veteran Bull can do even more in his final season. He’ll anchor a defensive line that struggled at times as the Bulls gave up at least 30 points in four games.

OL/DL Konner Briody, Sr.: A standout on defense because of his work ethic, Meza said, Briody has the potential to bring a lot more than the 27 tackles he had last season. At 6-foot-4, 205, Briody has the size to be a big help on both the offensive and defensive lines. 

WR/DB Taylor Bleistein, Jr.: Though listed as a wide receiver on last year’s varsity roster, Meza said Bleistein has found his niche on the defensive side of the ball, and he thinks the 5-foot-10, 155-pound junior could have a breakout year in the secondary. 

WR/DB Brendon Kozicki, Jr.: At 5-foot-9, 150 pounds, Kozicki is a bit undersized, but Meza insists his toughness makes up for it. The first-year coach expects Kozicki to excel in what he calls the “Wes Welker position,” a slot receiver. 

Coach’s corner

“What we’re trying to do within what we do, it’s going to be different. I don’t want to say a whole lot about it. You guys come out on Thursday the 21st, and you’re going to be like, ‘Oh crap.’ ” — Meza on his new offense

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