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Football roundup: Bulldogs keep focus during turmoil

looking for the open man: Nature Coast quarterback C.J. Baker drops back during the first practice of the preseason.

RON THOMPSON | Times

looking for the open man: Nature Coast quarterback C.J. Baker drops back during the first practice of the preseason.

ZEPHYRHILLS — Zephyrhills stepped on the practice field just before 10 a.m. Monday, kicking off the official start of the Jerrell Cogmon era.

Cogmon, who replaced Tom Fisher as coach after 20 seasons, begins the season under a cloud of recruiting turmoil.

Pasco County is investigating the Bulldogs' program after it was discovered volunteer assistant Abel Robinson had improper communication with students from Wesley Chapel, where he teaches and coached last year. Robinson was let go at Zephyrhills on Thursday.

In terms of Cogmon's status, Zephyr­hills principal Steve Van Gorden said the investigation should wrap up within 24 hours. Cogmon was on the practice field coaching as if he would be here for a long time.

"I respect the decision that (county athletic director) Phil Bell and my principal have made," Cogmon said. "… You have to chalk it up as a bad experience and move forward. We feel good. We don't feel as if we dwell on that. We have three weeks to get ready for Riverview. We've tried to address it with the kids and let them know where it is. We respect Mr. Bell's decision. He has the kids' best interest at heart."

Players began stretching drills and Cogmon shouted new chants unfamiliar to this tiny east Pasco community. "There's no better place to be," Cogmon yelled to his players as they ran across the practice field. "No better place to be."

No Pahokee for Sharks: Nature Coast's preseason classic at Pahokee has been canceled. Sharks first-year coach Mark Lee said the decision was made in the best interest of the program.

Nature Coast's season ended last year after a brawl at Groveland South Lake. After a 9-0 start, the Sharks were disqualified for the remainder of the season. Pahokee was recently sent home from a 7-on-7 tournament in Oregon because of discipline issues.

"We don't want our last game to be our preseason game," Lee said. "We have two strikes against us. One more and we're out. … Playing Pahokee would be like pouring gasoline on a fire."

Lee has made a point of implementing discipline for his new team, something he picked up as an assistant at Springstead. Discipline is a hallmark of Springstead coach Bill Vonada's programs.

Lee also cited the 160-mile trip to Pahokee. Nature Coast has not booked a replacement opponent though Lee said he is exploring other options.

Pirates well-wishers: A familiar voice welcomed Pasco to the first practice of the 2009 season. Former star Josh Johnson, who helped the Pirates reach last year's Class 3A state semifinal and is now playing at Purdue, called to wish the team luck as it prepares to defend conference, district and region titles.

"I usually communicate with all of them once a week," Pasco coach Tom McHugh said of the 15 players he has sent on to play college football. "… They're all saying good luck and keep going."

McHugh got to work quickly, installing base plays and trying to find replacements for the defensive unit, which was hit hard by graduation. Overall, McHugh has to replace 20 players who led the Pirates to a 12-2 record.

There have been some additions, including Wesley Chapel transfers Mitch Wozniak and C.J. West, and Zephyrhills transfer Jacob Guy. Guy was taking snaps as the second-team quarterback and is expected to play as a slot receiver.

"I know the kids want to work hard and they're doing good," McHugh said. "They're anxious and they're listening. They have big shoes to fill. Who's going to be the one to step up?"

Wildcats don't lose size: Despite the apparent mass exodus of transfers at Wesley Chapel, 79 kids signed in for the first day of practice.

Wesley Chapel has lost six players to transfers (Wozniak and West to Pasco; Jamal Roberts to Zephyr­hills; Hunter Joyer to Tampa Catholic; two more moved out of the bay area). But from our observations the Wildcats will continue their tradition of producing some beefy linemen.

For the better part of 25 years, Wesley Chapel coach John Castelamare said he has used his version of the Ironman to gauge players' physical gains during the offseason. The eight-station workout includes: 8x80, leg press, bench press, vertical jump, over-under, shuttle, 10-yard dash, 40-yard dash.

"They work out all summer so it gives us an idea of their speed, conditioning and strength," Castelamare said. "The older guys, the veterans know they want to try to get on the top 25 board. We do it once in the spring and once in the fall."

Also of note, former Wesley Chapel linebacker Vince Chalecki has been hired as an assistant and will help with the JV.

Bucs full of confidence: Coach Jay Fulmer had a message for players when he first arrived at Gulf. "Gulf was not put on this Earth to be anybody's doormat," he told them.

Now entering Fulmer's fifth season at the school, it's clear attitudes and expectations have changed. Today, Gulf is nobody's doormat. After going 10-2 last fall and posting the most wins in school history, the Bucs believe they can win any and every Friday night.

"They expect to," Fulmer said. "And I feel good about our chances."

As is often the case, Gulf followed a tremendous season with an above-average offseason. According to Fulmer, the Bucs not only looked sharp in the spring but had an excellent summer, on and off the field.

"They did real well," he said. "The guys are stronger. The guys are faster."

Most impressive to Fulmer: The players needed little coaxing to stay in shape. "They just do it," he said. "They want to be out here. I don't ever really have to say anything to them."

. fast facts

On the Web

We kicked off our preseason football video series with highlights from the first day of practice. Check out that video, and watch for our first team preview today, at highschool.tampabay.com.

Football roundup: Bulldogs keep focus during turmoil 08/10/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 10, 2009 9:31pm]
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