Before last season, Wiregrass Ranch was not viewed as a football school.
Before last season, the Bulls hadn’t gone to the playoffs and had a winning record since 2010.
Before last season, Wiregrass Ranch struggled to get through their Hillsborough County district with wins.
You can tell where this is going, can’t you?
We will leave you in suspense with the obvious answer, but before that, let’s take a look at one of Wiregrass Ranch’s valued offensive players in RB Chase Oliver. Oliver played through 2016 with a knee injury but still managed to score seven rushing touchdowns and compile 443 rushing yards.
Oliver only stands at 5’9”, however, he does weigh 220 lbs., which makes him a very solid power back for Wiregrass to use when they need to. If one were to look at his film, they’d see so much more than just power runs. There’s a lot more to Oliver than just rushing the ball.
“I really see myself as a utility player on the offense, I can block, carry the ball, play H-Back if they need me to. I think my biggest role on this team right now is to help open the holes for Da Da McGee,” Oliver said.
McGee rushed for 1,063 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2016, Oliver playing a big role in that with his timely blocks.
Even with the injury, his film shows that he wasn’t exactly bothered by it. “Getting through it was all mental. I did what I could when I could.”
Wiregrass Ranch Head Coach Mark Kantor knows a thing or two about getting past injuries – he dealt with 19 season-ending injuries in 2015, which Oliver wasn’t one of, but Kantor was definitely at the ready to help with Oliver’s.
“Coach Kantor left everything up to me, he let me decide about things with my knee. He obviously limited my reps at times, but he let me tell him when enough was enough for the day. His weight program really helped me out.” Oliver said. “With everyone, to be honest, the weight room has gotten everyone stronger, everyone was tougher, everyone was better.”
That improvement as the Bulls snorted their way through regular season play.
A 36-14 loss against Plant at Wiregrass Ranch was their only loss in district play. A forfeit win against Sickles at the end of the year was a gift, but it was certainly a game that Wiregrass Ranch could’ve won without the forfeit. A 30-29 overtime win for the Gryphons in week four proved to teams around Class 7A-District 8 that Wiregrass Ranch was going to compete, even though they had lost.
Compete they did.
“All of the competition in Hillsborough County has really helped us as a whole, especially in our confidence. Now that we’ve beaten teams like Gaither and Wharton, in addition to almost having Sickles, we know that we can go out there and beat them again this season,” Oliver said.
They routed in-county opponents Mitchell and Zephyrhills (also playoff teams but in 6A and 5A, respectively) by a combined 74 points.
By the end of the year, Wiregrass Ranch found themselves in a first-round matchup at Bryant Stadium against Lakeland.
However, it was another one-and-done playoff experience after their loss to Lakeland in the first round – certainly not a worthless one. “It was so different. There wasn’t set sides for Lakeland fans and Wiregrass fans, they were everywhere screaming at us all night long. We just had to take it as another game. That experience will definitely help us going into this season.”
What helps Oliver personally is that he expects to be 100-percent ready by the time spring football begins in April. “I’m getting closer and closer every day,” Oliver said.
It’s a team effort for the Bulls, who have two Division One recruits in their secondary alone in Jordan Miner and Shamaur McDowell. WR Daniel Biglow has received attention from USF, however nothing is concrete, as of yet. Even so, there is lots of talent on this Wiregrass Ranch squad, and that will play key.
However, something very important changes. There’s no more Chris Faddoul to play quarterback. Faddoul, arguably one of the most versatile players that Pasco County has seen, will be lost at graduation. His replacement? Grant Sessums, brother of Tampa Catholic’s Austin Sessums. Oliver is already impressed with the situation.
“Grant is a pure quarterback. He can sit down with you and talk to you about the offense. He made a couple mistakes in limited playing time this year because he was young. I think he’s going to do very well this season, Oliver said.”
It’s vital for him to do well if Wiregrass Ranch wants to be viewed as a powerhouse in Pasco County and the Bay Area.
And to have a second consecutive playoff appearance.
And to go from district runner-up to district champion.
“That’s the mentality we’ve got, right now.”