Jelani Vassell led the Wesley Chapel High (WCH) football team last season in rushing yards, receiving yards, kick return yards, interception return yards and scoring. He even found time to throw 19 passes.
To say Vassell had a target on his back when lining up against the opposition is a sizable understatement.
So, what is this year’s goal, according to Wildcats’ coach Tony Egan?
“We need to take the target off his back,” he says.
He thinks he has enough players to do just that, which in turn will make the Wildcats a better team and one that should contend for a playoff berth. Here’s how they stack up:
QUARTERBACK: Junior Owen Libby is the new starter, and recent Wiregrass Ranch High (WRH) transfer Matt Helms, a sophomore, is right behind him. Egan said he’s never had depth at quarterback, so having two interchangeable signal callers is definitely a bonus. Neither has yet thrown a varsity pass, but Egan says they have both looked good this summer in 7-on-7 play and have a plethora of talented targets this season.
RUNNING BACK: Senior Isaiah Cole was the starter last year (332 yards, two TDs), but he suffered a knee strain in camp and may be out for a while. Senior Quay Jones, a physical, downhill type runner, will step in and start the season in the backfield.
WIDE RECEIVER: Vassell, a senior, might be the best player in Pasco County, if not the most versatile. He averaged 30 yards a catch last season on 20 receptions, with six touchdowns. He also ran for 541 yards and eight scores, and returned two interceptions for 70-yard TDs.
“He’s a tremendous player,” Egan says. “When we need something to go our way, he makes that play for us.”
Vassell will have lots of help this season, as junior Jon’tavius Anderson (more than 120 yards receiving in the spring game) and sophomore Nehemiah Morgan will line up alongside him. Another WRH transfer, junior Tyler Stinson, who is the younger brother of former WCH and current Florida State University player Isaiah Bolden, is expected to make an impact as well.
“We’re pretty loaded at the skill positions,” says Egan.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Wharton junior transfer Tyre’ Brooks (6-0, 300) and junior Tyree Thomas (6-0, 285) give the Wildcats some serious beef at the guard positions, along with junior Logan Jeffrey, while Xzavier Owens starts at center and Kaleb Rivera mans the right tackle spot. The left tackle position is still open, although Egan says there are some solid candidates.
Egan was formerly an offensive line coach at River Ridge, which set county records for rushing when he was there, and others with offensive line experience, like Matt Smith (Sunlake), Tom McHugh (Pasco) and Brian Colding (Pasco), have joined the staff from schools that historically have had strong lines. So, hopes are high that the offensive lines will be coached up in 2019.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Smith is the new defensive coordinator, and the switch to a defense that employs only three lineman will help keep the Wildcats from having to play so many of their offensive players both ways. Sophomore defensive tackles Gavin Paul and Jayshaun Bell are moving up from junior varsity and have shown promise.
LINEBACKERS: Senior Brenden Maddox, who Egan says “is a beast,” led the Wildcats with 95 tackles, 17 for a loss, last season, and returns as a starter on the outside. Sophomore Jordan McCaslin, the son of former Florida Gator Eugene McCaslin, will start at inside linebacker, along with Ramsey, and senior Steven Mira and Stinson will share time at outside linebacker.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: This might be the best group in Pasco County — Vassell and Anderson will start at the corners and Jones is the safety, and a host of others will rotate in.
“Our two corners are hands down the best in the county,” Egan says. “There is no doubt in my mind.”
KICKER: Four-year starter Fletcher Martin handles both the kicking and punting duties.
THE FINAL WORD: Wesley Chapel has an exceptional amount of playmakers on both sides of the ball, and will put up some points this season. The last three seasons, however, they have been in the playoff hunt heading into their last two games, but have gone 0-6 down the stretch while getting outscored 252-61. If the ‘Cats can finish stronger, playoff football could be the reward.