LAND O'LAKES — It is unclear if Land O'Lakes High School quarterback Stevie Weatherford will return to practice this week. But it is very clear that even if he does, he won't be starting Friday's first-round playoff game at Class 3A No. 1 Jefferson.
"Ryan Bird is the starter," interim coach Patrick Corcoran said Monday. "We have team rules. One of them is you have to practice to play."
Weatherford, a USF commitment whose prolific prep career has seemingly come to a close, was not at school or practice Monday. Even if Weatherford returns this week, Corcoran said he is firm on Bird as the starter.
Weatherford's status has been in doubt since coach Matt Kitchie, defensive coordinator Jason Hatcher and cheerleading coach Celisa Cook were suspended indefinitely last week.
While Kitchie continues to decline comment, Hatcher defended himself and Kitchie on Monday, saying the suspensions are unfair and that the incident involving Weatherford that led to the suspensions "is not the situation that it's been made out to be."
According to Hatcher, he told the school board in his official statement that Cook saw Weatherford throwing a Gatorade bottle back and forth with another student in the school commons Nov. 4, told him to stop and asked the football coaches to intervene. Hatcher said he went to Weatherford's class, pulled him out and scolded him for his act then confiscated the bottle.
"I told him he needed to stop horsing around, that there was a target on you and you need to cut this out," Hatcher said. "At that point, I was also pretty unhappy with the way he was dressed. He had a ripped shirt on. I told him he was going to have to run at practice."
Hatcher then went to Kitchie's office to discuss Weatherford's punishment, and they discarded the bottle at that time. Hatcher also said that the following Saturday morning, Nov. 6, Weatherford had to help set up for homecoming as part of the punishment.
"Stevie was punished," said Hatcher, adding Kitchie agreed with the action taken.
What was in the bottle, however, seems to be a point of contention.
Hatcher said it appeared the bottle contained lemon-lime Gatorade. But he said principal Ric Mellin told him he had statements from others that it contained alcohol and "that we were at fault and we made mistakes."
Though he did not open the bottle, Hatcher said: "I was looking right at him in his eyes, he wasn't drunk, he didn't reek of alcohol, so why would I suspect anything? I didn't think anything of it. I'm not sure where that turned into the bottle had alcohol in it."
According to the Pasco County student code of conduct handbook: "Students found in possession of controlled, illegal substances (including alcohol), pills, or any other drug or drug look-alikes will be dealt with severely. Consequences may include, but are not limited to, counseling services, suspension, and/or law enforcement intervention."
Hatcher said because it was Tacky Tourist Day (as part of homecoming week), he saw at least 20-30 seniors bringing coolers from class to class.
"Was I supposed to check everyone walking around with bottles? I mean, there were kids in school dragging coolers around," he said.
Weatherford, who has thrown for 2,136 yards and 30 touchdowns while rushing for eight more, was not at Friday's 42-10 win over Hudson. He was not expected to play because the Gators did not want to risk an injury before the playoffs, but his absence from the sideline seemed to indicate he was suspended for that game.
Kitchie and Hatcher were told they could attend the game as long as they did not coach from the stands. Kitchie did not attend, and Hatcher said he did but after 10 minutes Mellin told him to leave.
Hatcher, 35, has been told he can no longer teach at Land O'Lakes. He has been a permanent substitute at the school for five years, teaching world history.
A former Countryside football player and 1993 Cougars grad, Hatcher was hired as an assistant by former Land O'Lakes coach John Benedetto in 2006, left for one season in '08 to coach at Ridgewood then returned as Kitchie's defensive coordinator.
Calls to Bill Weatherford, Stevie's father, and Mellin were not returned.