Reversing ‘the curse’ at Wiregrass Ranch in year two

Monty Python taught us through song that we are to ‘always look on the bright side of life’, but tell that to Wiregrass Ranch Head Coach, Mark Kantor. Last season, the Bulls suffered NINETEEN season-ending injuries in Kantor’s first season, and quite frankly he’s about to exhaust all his options–including a Voodoo Doctor if necessary–in order to find a way to ensure that sort of catastrophe doesn’t take place in his second. The Bulls were 2-8 last season and were firmly entrenched in a district that nobody wanted a part of with Sickles, Wharton and Plant among others.

This season, there’s more-than-a-little excitement surrounding the program as most-if-not-all of those young men are mending and molding themselves into better football players. The underclassmen that did survive the season are year-older-and-wiser and the ones returning are some pretty talented prospects.

Wiregrass QB Chris Faddoul in spring practice last season.
Wiregrass QB Chris Faddoul in spring practice last season.

“We’ve got to have some damn excitement around here,” said Kantor. “Because where we’re at was rock bottom last year. All the injuries that happened and just the growing pains of trying to do things the right way.”

Excitement would be nice, especially given the fact that all of the attrition that took place between the hash marks took a serious toll on Kantor’s internal being. Hope springs eternal however, and Kantor and his crew spent ZERO time worrying about 2015 once they blew the final whistle.

“There were a lot of times I thought about retiring thinking to myself I can’t be going through this crap any longer, but our young kids and the kids we’ve got coming–just make it more exciting in the end. When I get to reflect back and I don’t know if anybody knew this, but we maxed-out the week before Thanksgiving. We’ve been in the weight room since the Monday following that break. We’ve been pumping the iron and just trying to become a more physical football team.”

Never to be left without a plan, Kantor even considered finding someone–anyone–to help he and his program move past whatever juju was lurking over them like a blanket of fog. “I honestly thought about going to New Orleans and bringing back a Voodoo Doctor to this place and trying to get whatever curse they had placed over here and just do something about it. Maybe it was just unlucky number thirteen in terms of me being a head coach, who knows.”

The injuries and their impact were poignantly obvious to coaches all around the county as well that had Wiregrass on their schedule, and Kantor recalls that no-so-needed reminder. “After we played Mitchell, Bill Browning at Sunlake called me because they were playing them the following week. He told me they put the film on us earlier in the year and then put the film of us on against Mitchell, he said we looked like two different football teams. That’s what we were–two different football teams from the beginning of the year till the end of the year.”

Which football team will Wiregrass be this season? Well, obviously that depends on the physical attrition that takes its toll on the squad throughout the season, but one thing’s for certain–that beast of district isn’t going away even if they’re at full strength.

“Our district is still–and even though a lot of guys graduated in the district–it’s still one of the toughest districts in the State of Florida. We’ve still gotta compete with Sickles’ and the Plant’s year-in and year-on. Even playing a David Mitchell-coached team Wharton that’s going to play a very physical style of ball and try to control you from start-to-finish. All those guys are going to be sound whether they lose kids or not. They’re still going to be sound football teams and that means we have to be sound as well.”

Pasco’s building a new high school on Old Pasco Road that will certainly change the landscape in the eastern part of the county. The new school–not even named or even framed yet–will have a direct effect on Wiregrass’ status in Class 7A in the next few years, and that’s actually a really good thing which would allow natural rivalries in-county to develop instead of looking down the road at schools like Wharton or Freedom just over the border in Hillsborough.

“This next year could be our last year in 7A because they’re building the new high school in Wesley Chapel which may keep us from having a rivalry with any of those Tampa schools. There was talk about them wanting to get a rivalry going, but I had to remind people that we’re going to be losing kids and that we’re likely to be going down a classification. They’re going to shift the populations around where some of the kids are going to go from Wiregrass to Wesley Chapel and then some of the Chapel kids will be going to the new school. What it also means is that our numbers at Wiregrass are going to be the numbers that the school was built to handle. It would create an atmosphere for us to have those rivalries–like they have in Hillsborough.”

You just want to be competitive–because being competitive means you’re turning the corner. There are plenty of programs that are in the same situation as Wiregrass from student demographics, to talent on the roster and so on. Just because you have what seems like the necessary tools to be successful, the mission still has to be accomplished. Kantor uses his previous stops to compare the scenario he has now.

“When I got the job I thought this place reminded me of Gaither when I took over in ’02 and it took a little while for us to get cranked up, but it took bringing in the right assistants who were going to coach the kids up with 100% vigor and with great passion–and we got that. Then I went to Hudson, and we had to do the same thing, but we also had to get them from 0-and-whatever to just simply learning how to win games.”

The Bulls and their fan base should be “bullish” to say the least regarding their underclassmen talent that’s returning including one of their running backs Daquion “DaDa” McGee. Last season, tyne 5-foot-10, 160-pounder carried the ball 67 times for 333 yards and three touchdowns before falling victim to injury. They’ve also got a transfer from North Port at the running back position that’s just a sophomore and they will also have the services of “the juggernaut” Chase Oliver that will make his way back into the fold as well as a bruising-style fullback. That’s something that fits perfectly into the Bulls’ new plan on offense this season.

“DaDa’s doing a fantastic job. He’s running track for us right now. He’s a 100-meter, 200-meter 4×100-meter and long jump guy for us and he’s doing really well in the weight room and his body has changed. He’s a kid that’s just sneaky things his repertoire of running and it’s funny how those things are going to play in to how he does and how is production increases as we change the style of offense that we’re gong to run.”