NEW PORT RICHEY — Many around Pasco County likely were surprised when unbeaten Gulf lost to winless Sunlake last Friday.
But not Gulf coach Jay Fulmer. The truth is, he kind of saw it coming.
"It was just a matter of time," Fulmer said.
Perhaps he's right. Since last season, when the Buccaneers went 10-2, few area teams have lost as much talent.
In June, heralded tailback Adrian Golden, who set Pasco County's single-season rushing record (2,514 yards) in 2008, transferred to Tarpon Springs. Thus far, Golden has rushed for 570 yards and is averaging more than 10 yards per carry for the Spongers.
In August, about 20 former members of the program (varsity and junior varsity) enrolled at newly opened Anclote. At least a few of them, including tailback Brandon Harvey, likely would have been starters for Gulf.
In a Week 2 win over River Ridge, Gulf senior Leon Orr, a Florida Gators commit who stars at tight end and on the defensive line, fractured his leg while attempting to catch a pass and hasn't played since. Rivals.com ranks Orr as the country's 95th-best prospect.
All of this has left Gulf, which plays at Land O'Lakes (3-0) tonight, with only 24 varsity players.
"And one of them is the kicker," Fulmer joked.
Taking the above into account, instead of asking how Gulf could lose to Sunlake, the better question might be: How were the Bucs 3-0, with a win over what is turning out to be a very solid Hudson squad in their opener?
"We were overachieving," Fulmer said. "Especially to beat Hudson, which is beating everybody by 40."
Without question, Orr's loss has been the most significant.
"There's no way there could be a better lineman (in the country)," Fulmer said. "I don't see how it's possible. When he goes all out, nobody can block him."
So where does Gulf go from here?
After Land O'Lakes, the Bucs, who are 0-1 in Class 3A, District 7 thanks to Sunlake, face district foes Pasco (2-1) and Mitchell (4-0) in consecutive weeks.
"We're not even thinking about the playoffs," Fulmer said.
Instead, Fulmer has given his squad some advice:
Have fun, play hard and enjoy being with your teammates.
"That's takes a lot of the pressure off," said senior quarterback Madison Burr, who has accounted for eight touchdowns.
No question about it, last week's setback has put Gulf in an unsavory spot. But despite that the Bucs have no intention of packing it in.
"We've come together this week," senior linebacker Darryl Cooper said. "We can't afford another loss."
On the field — or on the roster.
Keith Niebuhr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org