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Waiting game to get on the football field wears on Wiregrass Ranch

The Bulls have yet to play a regular-season game thanks to coronavirus issues with opponents.
Mark Kantor and his Wiregrass Ranch squad, seen here last season, have yet to get in a regular-season game due to COVID-19 issues with other teams.
Mark Kantor and his Wiregrass Ranch squad, seen here last season, have yet to get in a regular-season game due to COVID-19 issues with other teams. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Sep. 9
Updated Sep. 9

WESLEY CHAPEL — Wiregrass Ranch coach Mark Kantor and his Bulls cannot take any more. They are fed up. They are, as Bulls receiver Bryson Rodgers said, “ready to bust through a brick wall.”

The frustration stems from a turn of events that few teams in the state have had to endure — not playing their first two football games of the season because of coronavirus outbreaks within their opponents’ squads.

The Bulls’ first game got rescheduled (against Hernando) and last week cancelled (Wesley Chapel). Try as they might, Wiregrass Ranch couldn’t find replacement teams in time due to the late notice.

Friday night, finally, Wiregrass Ranch (0-0) will host a season-opening game against Mitchell (2-0), one of the dominant teams in Pasco County the past few years.

“I’m on edge, I’m irritable, I’m terrible to be around,” Kantor said. “If I get news on Thursday or Friday afternoon that this game against Mitchell was cancelled there is going to be a nuclear explosion in Wesley Chapel and that will be from my head exploding. It will be 10 times bigger than Mount Vesuvius.”

The irritation is compounded from last year when the Bulls’ last game of the 2020 season was cancelled because of the virus, ending their season at 4-4 and without any chances in the playoffs.

“We’ve all had enough here,” said senior quarterback Rocco Becht, an Iowa State commit who in last year’s eight-game season threw for 1,550 yards and 18 touchdowns. “I feel bad for the guys who are hoping to get looks from colleges but they haven’t been able to show any game tapes. I feel bad for the guys who won’t go onto college and this is the last season they will play.

“We only play once a week and the games are a big deal for everybody. It means so much to play the games.”

Rocco Becht (3), right, celebrates a touchdown pass with Grady Clower in a game last season.
Rocco Becht (3), right, celebrates a touchdown pass with Grady Clower in a game last season. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

It also hurts that Wiregrass Ranch was predicted to be pretty darned good this season. Besides Becht, a four-star recruit, the Bulls have Rodgers, a four-star junior who has offers from more than 20 schools, including Alabama, Florida, FSU and Georgia. Last year Rodgers caught 47 passes for 710 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Two more nice weapons are featured in the Bulls’ backfield, Kenneth Walker and Corneil McCrary, who last year combined for almost 1,000 rushing yards in the eight games.

In front of Becht is a veteran and stout offensive line including Cristian Loaiza (6-foot-5, 320 pounds), Logan Ridolph (6-4, 275) and Tucker Schwab (6-1, 235).

Defensively, Wiregrass Ranch lost six players to graduation, but Kantor said, “We’ve had plenty of guys step up and get better on defense. I think we will be solid on defense.”

Rodgers said, “We just need a chance to show what we can do. I will say that not playing has made me appreciate the game and my teammates and coaches that much more. But still, we want to play. We need to play.”

Kantor repeated with tremendous exuberance: “I’m telling you if this game is cancelled it’s going to be worse than Mount Vesuvius.”

That would be bad indeed. The eruption from the volcano Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Oplontis as well as several other settlements. The eruption ejected a cloud of stones, ashes and volcanic gasses 21 miles high, erupting molten rock and pulverized pumice.

“I know Mount Vesuvius was bad,” Kantor said. “But this would be worse.”