Spring high school football is back and practices began Wednesday, all in preparation for jamborees and games this month. There are new coaches and faces across Pasco County, and throughout May we’ll be previewing all 15 teams — from Academy at the Lakes to Zephyrhills. For now, here’s some news and notes from the first practices. New Gulf coach taking it slow For coach Jason Messamore, the task of rebuilding the program starts now, and the former Clearwater Central Catholic and East Lake assistant couldn’t be more excited. Following a winless 2012 season in which the Buccaneers were outscored 424-29 and shut out five times, the first-year coach knows he needs to start with the positives. Messamore said he has been impressed by the turnout, as 48 players were scheduled to begin practices this week. He also acknowledged that the cupboard is far from empty. “We have some athletes here,” he said. Still, Messamore, who will guide the Gulf offense, is being cautiously optimistic.
“I don’t know (the players’) knowledge base of the game,” he said. “They really didn’t do much and there aren’t too many positives to go on over the past few years. My expectations are for them to work hard and be respectful and let everything else take care of itself. “We need to fit these kids into positions where they can fit well and then build depth from there. If we can do that, we’ll have a pretty successful season.” Mitchell’s new line Coach Scott Schmitz has been here before, so he knows the job is not insurmountable. Still, for a team that relies on fast-thinking offensive linemen as much as Mitchell does in its Wing-T attack, the prospect of replacing the bulk of that unit is daunting. Schmitz must replace four starters from a line that helped Mitchell go 6-4 last year; the only returner is Jeremy Gruerio , who will move from center to guard. Zac Curtis should be at another line position, but after that, spots are open. “Up front, we know we’re going to be extremely young,” Schmitz said, “but because of all the injuries we suffered last year, some of the kids that weren’t starters got playing time, so we know a bit about them. “It happens every year where you need to deal with two or three losses on the line, and we had a very good JV team last year, so we know we’ve got some kids that can step in.” Hudson ready to keep winning Coming off a rebuilding 3-7 season, the Cobras are heading into their second spring under coach Mark Kantor, and Hudson is looking to make bigger strides. Hudson’s spring practices will culminate with an away game against Mitchell on May 23. “The guys are more excited this spring,” Kantor said. “Our numbers are better from last spring and the guys are more into it. Even though we got a little bit wet behind the ears (Wednesday), we were still able to get our first practice in. It was good getting back out there.” Kantor said Hudson had 55 players out for the first day of practice. One returner is junior quarterback Joey Caruso, who missed the final four games of the 2012 regular season and completed 28 of 62 passes for 266 yards. A rising star emerged in Caruso’s absence in running back Noah Siegrist, who rushed for 656 yards and four touchdowns on 151 carries as a junior. “Everyone looks good without pads and equipment on,” Kantor said. “Joey looked sharp throwing the ball and especially had good command of the huddle. Noah is back and he’s doing a good job out there, too.” Sunlake stacked Sunlake has experienced one of the higher spring turnouts, with 85 players. But two of the more established members of the team will not be participating in practices at all. Linebackers Ben Wood and Ryan Reiss remain out due to knee injuries suffered last season. Wood, a senior, was Sunlake’s leading tackler in 2012 with 86 in eight games. He also had seven sacks and three forced fumbles. Reese, a junior, played as a reserve in 2012, but is expected to be a starter this year. “We’re pleased with their progress and both are ahead of schedule,” coach Bill Browning said. “They’ll be able to do weight training in the offseason and we expect them to be ready in the fall.” Wildcats ahead of schedule Wesley Chapel, under new coach Tico Hernandez, isn’t at Square 1. More like Square 2. “When you look at our strengths, it was defense and athleticism,” Hernandez said. “They’re putting up numbers we want to see, but the kids are working hard and building trust and learning to lean on one another. When they do that, good things will happen.” Hernandez, a former Wiregrass Ranch assistant, said he hopes to get 50 players out for spring practice, which is vastly more than at this time last season. With starting quarterback Ty Tanner having transferred to Zephyrhills, Hernandez said every position is up for grabs. “When you lose a returning player, it hurts,” Hernandez added. “We’ll have competition and improvement across the board. We’re ready for that.” New day at Wiregrass Ranch Bulls coach Mike Lawrence is surrounding himself with the people he wants, knowing that will be the key to success. Back-to-back winless seasons means the first-year coach and his team have nowhere to go but up. When Wiregrass starts practices Monday, Lawrence knows it will be up to the players — and the coaches he hand-picked. “Its about having certain expectations,” Lawrence said. “Not only for the kids, but the coaches, too, so they hold the player accountable and everyone contributes to help us win.” The Bulls return some good players, including starting quarterback Shane Bucenell, a junior. He is one of more than 50 players ready for practice. Lawrence realizes it’s time to change the team’s losing mentality. “Our expectation is straight-up winning,” he said. “I know we’ve been a bad program the past couple of years. I’ve been here. It’s time to change that, though, and that starts with one game at a time and it starts now in the spring.” Zephyrhills’ roster wide open Bulldogs coach Reggie Roberts is having an open competition for all starting spots, and the most interesting position battle could be at quarterback. Five talented players will compete for the job, including 2012 starter Michael Smith and Wesley Chapel transfer Ty Tanner. The loss of leading rusher Willie Williams to graduation will mean seniors Malik Mutcherson and Devon Brockington will likely split carries in the fall. Mutcherson and Brockington each ran for more than 400 yards last season.
Compiled by Mike Camunas, Chris Errington, Andy Villamarzo, Bart O’Connell, Kenny Sanders