HOLIDAY — Matt Wicks wore a hard hat.
In early 2009, he was walking on a dirt field that would eventually be part of an athletic complex. Wicks was accompanied by Anclote High athletic director Heidi Michaels, who would eventually hire Wicks to build the Sharks’ football program from the ground up.
“That was ages ago, especially after the uphill battle that it has been,” said Wicks, who has a 19-32 record in five seasons at the helm. “You want to start a program, and in your mind you know you can do it, but to actually do it … it’s pretty awesome.”
Perhaps what’s more awesome is that Anclote (6-4) will host its first playoff game tonight at 7:30, when nearby rival Tarpon Springs (6-4) comes to Shark Stadium for a Class 5A-Region 7 quarterfinal. It’s been a long journey for Wicks and Co., and it has culminated in the past two historic seasons.
In 2012, the Sharks made the playoffs for the first time, but this season, in the new Class 5A-District 7, Anclote won it first district title, which also gives them a chance to avenge an ugly 28-3 preseason loss to the Spongers.
“We do feel like we deserve to be here — it’s not something that anyone gave us,” Wicks said. “We still had to play our games, and while our goal was to win seven games — we fell short, but we still got the district title, which was our other goal. … We’re not a traditional fast-starting team. We mold our team around what our kids are doing during the season, and we’re different now than back in August.”
Even though it was evident the Sharks would turn to senior running back Willie Barrett, who has 1,062 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, fellow senior back Trent Crawford has provided another option by adding 995 yards and eight scores.
The defense has also allowed 144 points and picked up 44.5 sacks and 16 turnovers. That’s vastly different than Wicks’ first two seasons.
“We didn’t have football players — it was like a band of misfits,” Wicks said. “There were attitudes, people were throwing punches at practice and we didn’t get to a turning point until we got our first win. We took that and went 4-6 (in 2011) — we had swagger, confidence and finally the right mentality of a football team.”
Anclote started off by going 0-17, but each year the team improved, including this season, when it went 5-0 in district play. A knock against the Sharks, Wicks admits, is that they were 1-3 against the rest of the schedule and started the season 0-3.
In 2012, the Sharks started 0-4 but made the playoffs after winning a three-way playoff with Zephyrhills and Fivay.
It has been nothing but up since the Sharks left the ground floor.
“When we’ve gotten to district play, we’ve had to win out the past two seasons,” Wicks said. “That’s not always a bad place to be, because its worked for us and we are where we want to be this time of year.”
Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.