Sunday, September 23, 2018
Sports

Commitment to change already evident for Wesley Chapel

WESLEY CHAPEL

One stands 6 feet 9, holds numerous college offers and has already verbally committed to play at Florida State. The other's about a foot shorter and could stand to put on a few pounds.

"Man, I've seen that kid eat six meals and he's the same weight, if not lighter, the next day," Wesley Chapel High football coach Tony Egan says of Justin Trapnell, who tips the scales in the 145-pound range.

And as of Game 3, Trapnell is now the Wildcats' quarterback. Together, Trapnell and newcomer Chaz Neal — he's the big one — merely hold major keys to Chapel's aspirations of a first-ever playoff victory.

"That's where the real 'change Chapel' thing comes in. If we're able to get to the playoffs and win," said Egan, who created the motto after taking over as head coach in January 2016.

The former River Ridge offensive line coach (and alumnus) took over a Wildcat program that needed some changes, having gone 2-8 in its previous two years, winless the one before. Egan transformed the offense into a more run-minded one.

Dexter Leverett, who transferred in from South Carolina, helped move along the approach. He led the Wildcats with 1,249 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns as they went 7-2. It was Chapel's first winning season in five years.

Yet it all felt a bit insufficient. The defeats doomed Chapel's playoff hopes. After a 7-0 start, the Wildcats needed to beat either Zephyrhills or River Ridge to secure one of two 5A, District 8 playoff spots, but lost both.

"We started 7-0 and we got in that Zephyrhills game. We faced adversity, and we didn't know what to do with it," Egan said. "So maybe now that we've faced it and overcome it, it's going to help us in the long run."

He refers to adversity on multiple fronts this season. Never a fun eventuality, the Wildcats (3-1) lost 14-7 to rival Wiregrass Ranch in Week 2. And late in that game, Isaiah Bolden injured his shoulder while trying to make a run from his quarterback position. Bolden hasn't played since, but was in good spirits Monday watching his Wildcats roll to a 49-0 victory over Fivay.

And he's happy to have Trapnell as the new quarterback. Bolden, a University of Oregon commit, is very much a cornerback who was trying his best under center.

"Oh, man," Bolden starts, a smile that beams relief. "Traps just puts us in a better position to help the team win, putting me at wide receiver and of course cornerback. And in better position to take that step into the playoffs. That's the step we all want to take."

Trapnell didn't need to do much throwing in his first start, his lone completion being a 47-yard TD to Jelani Vassell as Chapel ran for 264 yards while beating Pasco 42-12. And on Monday he hooked up with Vassell on the game's first play for a 74-yard score. Trapnell added a running TD while going 4-for-6 for 100 yards and another score.

"I felt a lot of pressure, actually, before my first start but I had to do it for my team and make things work," Trapnell said. "I used to be a quarterback in Little League, when I was 12, 13, but never thought I would come back in high school to do it."

That stems from the weight issue. Trapnell knows he needs to put on at least 30 pounds, preferably 50, to get serious college looks.

"He's a player," Egan said. " . . . We talked about it as a coaching staff, who are we gonna put back there (at QB) with all these guys getting hurt. Who is our main 'gamer' and Trap is a kid like that. Just enough chip on his shoulder, but not a disciplinary problem, and that's a fine line. It makes him a good football player."

For a guy whose size is no problem, there's been a process with Neal as well. The 260-pounder transferred from Armwood, where he was called on to more or less tie up blockers.

The Wildcats want him to be more of a presence.

"When he came in where he was very raw, not a whole lot of experience. He's a big kid but the first week, he wasn't bringing the physicality we wanted. The Pasco game he was extremely physical, so he's getting to that level we need that ultimately will help him transfer to the next level."

Neal gave FSU a verbal commit in July, getting offered by coaches at the Jimbo Fisher Football Camp in Tallahassee. He hasn't taken an official visit, planning that for Oct. 7 when the 'Noles play Miami.

"Since I was about 9 years old FSU has been in my heart," said Neal, who has taken greatly to Chapel, praising the "family" vibe. "I love the school, the coaches, everything."

When Bolden gets back healthy, Chapel will be fully loaded and tuning up for that critical stretch of games with Zephyrhills and River Ridge. The Wildcats host both district rivals.

The new playoff points system means it's possible Wesley Chapel could not win the district and still make the postseason.

But . . .

"We don't want to leave it to chance with the points," Egan said. "We want to go out and win our district."

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