Wiregrass Ranch and Wesley Chapel are gunning for the postseason, while Cypress Creek looks to improve.
WIREGRASS RANCH BULLS
Head Coach: Mark Kantor
2017 record: 9-3 (4-2)Tonight’s season opener:
Returning players: Grant Sessums (Sr., QB, #10) Dylan Ridolph (Jr., LB, #40), Kasean Ridgel (Sr., DL, #52), Connor Lenczden (Jr., OT, #62), Mason Buie (Sr., RB, #24), Cameron Lee (Sr., LB, #30).
Impact newcomer: Keith Walker (Jr., ATH, #7)
THE SKINNY: The Bulls are arguably the class of Pasco County, but only only play three games against county competition because Class 7A, District 8 is Hillsborough County-based. Kantor touts his linebacking corps as being his best unit on either side of the football. Dylan Ridolph is emerging into an elite linebacker, while Lee and juniors Nick Gaziano and Tyler Hayes will bolster the 3-4 defensive front.
Ridolph and Gaziano led the team with 89 tackles last year. Ridgel isn’t a mammoth at 5-foot-10, 275 pounds, but Kantor claims he creates more disruption than anyone on the team. A re-vamped secondary will feature sophomore Noah Biglow and junior Julian Gonzalez on the outside.
Senior Dorien Green, a defensive back with an offer from Northern Illinois, will likely take over at safety. Walker adds a bit of homerun speed that graduated when Jordan Miner left for Penn State. Mason Buie will also work the backfield. Sessums (pictured above) completed 56 percent of his passes last season for 1,483 yards and eight touchdowns.
The experience will go a long way to helping the Bulls get back to the playoffs for a third straight season.
CYPRESS CREEK COYOTES
Head Coach: Mike Johnson
2017 record: 0-10 (0-0)
2018 preseason opener 8/17:
vs. Citrus Park Christian
2018 regular season opener 8/24:
Returning players: Devin Santana (Sr., WR, #2), Logan Bercaw (Sr., OL/DL, #75), Trevor Maxwell (Sr., QB, #8), Jehlani Warren (Jr., ATH, #9), Jalen Warren (Jr., LB, #3), Tim Ford-Brown (Sr., RB, #5), Quinton Spears (Sr., UT, #1)
Impact newcomer: Cedric McBride (Sr., ATH, #18)
THE SKINNY: There were little to no expectations for the Coyotes in 2017, their first year. They won their first game against Gulf, but it later had to be forfeited due to an ineligible player and the Coyotes were outscored 470-28 the rest of the way.
There are, however, a few expectations in 2018. It looks as though Maxwell is going to be the guy at quarterback, and he’s going to have plenty of talent around him. Santana (pictured) is a top-flight receiver, and newcomer McBride is a nice pass-catching complement. Tim Ford-Brown, the Warren twins (Jalen and Jehlani), as well as Colorado transfer Jovanni Addison, make for a talented and crowded backfield.
The question marks, typical for young teams, are up front and on defense. Bercaw is a solid defensive end with good size and will swing around and play tackle on offense, but the Coyotes are going to need more to be successful in 2018. Coaches are pretty excited about their linebackers in Jalen Warren and Addison, but the spots in front of and behind them need to be solidified. There are definitely a few winnable games on Cypress Creek’s schedule this year.
WESLEY CHAPEL WILDCATS
Head coach: Tony Egan
2017 record: 6-4 (4-3)
Tonight’s season opener: vs. Sunlake
Returning players: Jelani Vassell (Sr., ATH, #10), Fletcher Martin (Jr., PK, #36), Owen Libby (So., QB, #12), Seth Petty (Sr., C, #68), Kiaus Collins (Sr., RG, #50), Tyler Wittish (Sr., TE/DE, #9)
Impact newcomers: RT #70 Sean Hunter (Jr.) & RB Kris Chandler.
THE SKINNY: The Wildcats lost a lot to graduation, AND even more to Cypress Creek when it opened two years ago. The team’s numbers dwindled down to bare bones in the spring but have rebounded slightly, heading into fall.
Athlete Jelani Vassell returns for his senior campaign and he likely will not come off the field. All-Conference senior Seth Petty moves over to center from tackle and is the leader of the group and its best blocker. He’ll have some help, however, as senior Kiaus Collins returns at right guard and Apopka transfer Sean Hunter sets up at right tackle.
The biggest question mark for the Wildcats is at quarterback. Sophomore Owen Libby is the guy getting the call and, while he’s completely unproven and inexperienced, he has great size, especially for a sophomore, and coaches like what they’ve seen through the summer and fall.
The guy to keep an eye on for Wesley Chapel is Wittish (pictured), who will line up at tight end and defensive end. He’s the team’s best blocker, probably their best tackler and their fulcrum of leadership. The Wildcats are still likely going to be looking up at River Ridge and Zephyrhills in the Class 5A, District 8, but it only takes upsetting one of them to put them in the playoff picture.