The new artificial field at Wharton is progressing nicely. (Photo: @WhartonWildcats)

Wharton High will be playing its football games this fall on a brand new artificial turf field, with construction expected to be completed by the end of July.

The Wildcats will debut the field for their regular season football home opener against rival Freedom High on August 27.

“Oh yeah, they are excited about it,” says Wharton’s athletic director Eddie Henderson.

According to Henderson, Hillsborough County Public Schools is doing a rotation of 3-5 fields each summer, with the final goal being to install artificial turf at every public high school.

Last year, the first schools in the rotation — Sumner, Sickles and Hillsborough — had new fields put in. This summer, Steinbrenner, Lennard and Blake are getting new fields, along with Wharton. Each field costs roughly $2 million, but Henderson says the District will make up a lot of those costs with what it saves in maintenance and re-sodding.

“I think that there will be a lot of money saved over the long run,” Henderson says.

Plant High was the first county public school to put in an artificial turf field in 2010, after raising $600,000 for the project.

SPEAKING OF WILDCATS: Wharton recently wrapped up its spring season with a 14-0 loss in one half of play against Tampa Bay Tech, but second-year coach Mike Williams wasn’t concerned about the score.

“The spring is about evaluating our kids and seeing who is ready to move up to varsity,” Williams says. “And we liked what we saw.”

Although the Wildcats graduated all of their varsity quarterbacks, Williams was pleased with last year’s junior varsity starter, Tyree Works, who handled all of the spring snaps. But, Works will have more competition in the fall from some promising freshmen and transfers. Williams is hoping to transition from a power-based offense to one featuring more perimeter passes to spread out the game. 

With leading rusher Keith Morris and some key wide receiver transfers ready to beef up the offense, Williams expects to score more than the 19 points per game the team averaged last year.

Almost every defensive player is back, including a linebacking crew that could make an argument for being the best in Tampa Bay and includes All-Staters Daveon Crouch, who recently committed to Boston College, and Henry Griffith and second-team MaxPreps Freshman All-American Booker Pickett Jr.

The Wildcats went 7-2 in 2020 because the defense was top-flight, allowing only nine points per game and posting three shutouts.

“This is going to be a big summer for a lot of the guys,” Williams says.

NUMBERS GAME AT FREEDOM: Freedom High, coming off a winless season, picked up an 8-7 jamboree win over King last month to wrap up spring football.

Quarterback Alex de la Cruz threw a touchdown pass to Greg Underwood Jr., and then found RJ Broadnax for the two-point conversion and the win.

De la Cruz will enter the fall as the starter, after promising freshman and last year’s leading passer Taquawn Anthony said he would not be returning to Freedom.

The Patriots suffered a more serious blow when their best player, Robby Washington, transferred to Eagle’s Landing High in McDonough, GA. Washington led Freedom in rushing, receiving and touchdowns last year, and averaged more than 12 yards every time he touched the ball. He has offers from Alabama, Miami and Boston College.

Third-year coach Chris Short will continue trying to rebuild the Patriots, though only 22 players dressed out for the spring game and very few of them had any previous game experience.

He says a lot of players are waiting on paperwork, but admits that adequately filling a football roster for the upcoming fall season will be a tough chore.

“The hardest thing I’m dealing with right now is the same as when I was an assistant, and that’s getting kids to come out,” Short says. “I’m hoping it’s a cyclical thing with us, but if we can get these kids signed up we’ll be okay.”

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