Elijiah Brown (center) and Brendan Collela (right in the maroon jersey) are vying for the starting job at Wiregrass Ranch. (Photos: Charmaine George)

Spring football always presents a host of questions for area coaches to answer.

Who is going to start here, who is going to block there, and who is going to step up in the fall?

But, in Wesley Chapel this month, all three local high schools have at least one question in common:

Who is going to play quarterback?

The game’s most important position at Wiregrass Ranch (WRH), Wesley Chapel (WCH) and Cypress Creek (CCH) was handled by seniors Rocco Becht, Ethan Harper and Owen Walls, respectively. Together, the trio passed for more than 4,300 yards and 45 touchdowns. Their backups threw a combined five passes, completing one.

So, who will line up under center on May 19 when Cypress Creek hosts a jamboree against Pasco and St. Petersburg Catholic and Wiregrass Ranch visits Berkeley Prep at 7 p.m., or May 20 when Wesley Chapel hosts Land O’Lakes at 7 p.m.?

Good question.

Bryson Rodgers is considered one of the top prep receivers in the country.

Nowhere does the quarterback search seem more of a necessity than at WRH, where the Bulls are flush with a pair of fantastic, dare we say once-in-a-lifetime wide receivers.

Rising senior Bryson Rodgers recently committed to Ohio State  — which had two wideouts drafted in the first round of last month’s NFL Draft — and rising junior Izaiah Williams picked up a college offer from national champion Georgia last week, to go with those he has received from the likes of Florida State, Cincinnati and Michigan.

Bulls coach Mark Kantor admits it’s not ideal to have to find a new, unproven quarterback for a roster that arguably has the two best receivers in school history, but he has his fingers crossed that the answer emerges from the spring battle between last year’s backup Elijiah Brown and junior varsity starter Brendyn Collela.

“They’re even right now,” says Kantor.

While Kantor would like to see a starter emerge that can take advantage of his star receivers, who combined for 1,200 yards and 18 TDs last year, he does have the area’s top returning running back in Kenneth Walker, who scored seven TDs last year.

Quarterback aside, Kantor does have other issues. He has an offensive line to replace, though he feels good about the spring efforts so far and thinks he has found four of the five future starters, and his defense has to be better. 

Last fall, the Bulls lost four of their last five games and surrendered an average of 37 points in those losses.

He is counting on guys like rising senior Nick Johnson (LB) and Elijiah Westbrooks (CB), rising junior Jaden Bering (MLB) and rising sophomore Ola Omaloye (MLB) to pack some extra punch into the defensive unit.

“We’ve got to get back to playing physical defense,” Kantor says. “I gotta find some dudes who want to crack-a-lack.”

CCH Grooming Neimann

Meanwhile, at Cypress Creek, Walls’ departure will hurt, but coach Mike Johnson likes what he has seen in jayvee starter and rising junior Jack Neimann this offseason.

“I think we’ve got some great guys trying to fill those shoes,” Johnson says. “Jack is a guy who has been productive, and we have a lot of confidence in him.”

While quarterback may be the biggest loss, the entire offense is in need of a spring overhaul. Even if Neimann can prove to be the answer at QB, he will need blockers, pass catchers and running backs and the Coyotes went into spring looking for all those things. 

Dylan Lolley, a 6-3, 225-pound tight end, is a great route runner and had 28 catches for 329 yards last year, so he’ll be counted on to replace a lot of the 1,200 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns lost to graduation. And, rising senior running back Tre Gibson is expected to take over in the backfield.

As for the offensive line, Johnson says a torn ACL, back surgery and dislocated elbow will keep three of his veteran offensive/defensive linemen sidelined this spring, but he feels good about the fall.

Defensively, it’s been a five-year battle to find a unit that can produce like Johnson wants it to. In the team’s brief history, the Coyotes have been allowing more than 30 points a game.

Can The ‘Cats Run To Wins?

While the Wildcats (6-4 last season) also need a quarterback, they don’t rely on the pass as much as their area counterparts.

Harper threw for 600 yards last season, so whoever inherits the reigns between rising senior Dillon McGinnis, junior Colin Opperman and sophomore Desmond Devore won’t be asked to do too much.

Instead, how they lead WCH’s run-first offense will be the key. 

“Whoever shows the leadership for the position will be the guy,” says coach Anthony Egan. 

Egan has rising senior bookend tackles in Max Hambrecht (6-4, 325) and Ryan Warren (6-3, 270) and tight end Conner Libby (6-5, 230) to anchor his offensive line, so look for the Wildcats to do what the coach likes best and pound the rock while controlling the clock. The loss of 1,000-yard rusher Jaylan Blake needs to be replaced, and Egan says last year’s fullback Mason Quinn could be that guy.

On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Josh Poleon will anchor the unit, which is in rebuilding mode. The hardest part about rebuilding, whether it’s finding one player like a quarterback or an entire defensive line, are the number of choices. At Wesley Chapel, Egan’s biggest spring battle could be finding enough players.

“We’re still struggling with numbers,” says Egan, who had about 45 kids out this spring. “It definitely presents some special challenges. We have good kids, with great skills, but we need more of them.”

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