ZEPHYRHILLS — The Zephyrhills football team tried to move ahead Wednesday, a day after coach Jerrell Cogmon was fired as a result of a Pasco County recruiting investigation.
In all, 45 Bulldogs broke huddle just after 9:30 a.m. in one corner of a practice field. One by one they jogged in familiar lines to begin Day 3 of fall practice. Players stretched in the same four lines they had Monday, shouting chants Cogmon had taught them.
But Cogmon's deep voice wasn't echoing over their heads.
Assistants Troy Hochstetler and Greg Mathis are sharing coaching responsibilities until a replacement is found. They kept the routine similar to Cogmon's, chants and all, and shifted focus toward the season. With a coaching search ahead and just two weeks before a preseason classic against Riverview, many wonder if Zephyrhills has been dealt a blow too big to overcome.
"We're trying to play to our strengths and keep everything positive," Hochstetler said. "… They came out a lot better today than we thought they would. They weren't moping. They were upbeat and they gave us everything they had. It was a positive day."
Afterward, four Zephyrhills senior captains — Anthony Viernes, Michael Peterman, Ben Williams and Josh Geiger — spoke for the team in the vacant coach's office. Each said they did not know Cogmon's job was in jeopardy, and when he shared the news of his termination the locker room was stunned.
"That's the last thing you ever think about is your coach being fired," Viernes said. "… It was his first year and now he's gone two weeks before our first game. You would never think that.
"Everybody was down. They didn't know what to think. They were in shock."
Asked what they thought about allegations of recruiting, some said they were caught off guard. Others said they didn't know what to think. None believed their coach had cheated.
"They could have handled the situation a different way," Geiger said. "He did a lot of great things in the time that he was here."
Williams jumped in and added: "They didn't look at that. They looked at all the negative things."
After a subdued Tuesday practice, players began calling each other to talk about principal Steve Van Gorden's decision.
Players from other schools called and sent text messages to gather details, and by the end of the day the four captains had come to an agreement.
"We have to get everybody right," Williams said. "We have more to prove than anyone right now. Everyone is doubting us.
"We're trying to keep everything he taught us."
Only two players were absent from Wednesday's practice, one of whom was excused, Hochstetler said. In terms of the coaching search, Van Gorden has encouraged assistants to apply. Hochstetler was still deciding if he would submit a resume. He met with former coach Tom Fisher on Tuesday, but said it was a "social visit."
One thing that can be said: all seemed ready to move on.
"There were a lot of positive things that were going on here before," Hochstetler said. "We just want to stay with those positive things and keep the momentum going."
Izzy Gould can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 421-3886.