Wiregrass Ranch Football – Bringing the “Mean” Back from an Old-Time ‘70’s Game

TAMPA, MAY 11, 2018 – Having a conversation with Coach Mark Kantor of the Wiregrass Ranch Bulls, it was easy to hear how proud he was of his team.  Names of his players, their positions, and how they’re going to contribute this next year just rolled off the tongue as easily as a quarterback’s naked bootleg run when no one in the stands expects it… TOUCHDOWN BULLS!!

Not that the Coach and I discussed anything in his Playbook, which was successful for the Wesley Chapel team in making it to the second round of the Florida State Playoffs and a 9-3 record overall (4-2 within their District).

“Every day is a new day for us where we have to get physically and mentally tough in order to play and compete in the District we play in.”  He couldn’t have said it any more succinct than that, as the Bulls play in a District which boasts Tampa Plant – a team which went all the way to the 7A State Semi-finals before losing to Bartram, playing all the way into December! Wiregrass also has Sickles, Gaither, Freedom and Leto as District-mates on their schedule each year, so each game is a weekly gauntlet of activity against Tampa’s prime contenders.

The Coach continued… “We lost some great players, but we have some guys who’re stepping up and will make an impact this year.  Our Quarterback Grant Sessums is a two-year starter for us.  We’re a bit young in the backfield, but our Fullback Mason Buie returns and we have a Tailback in Freshman Myles Coates and a transfer in Ja’mar Hicks who’ll help us out in the running game.”

“Our Offensive Line is young but experienced with Conner Lendson and Josh Hood, who played 12 to 13 games last year as sophomores, so they’re our anchors up front offensively.  We have a new receiving corps this year, as all of our guys from last year have graduated.  We’re looking at guys like Hunter Helton, Julian Gonzalez, Jordan Nash and Keith Walker to fill in those roles offensively this year.”

“The Defensive Front will be led by three-year starter Ka’shon Ridgel, a strong, tough, physical kid who’s very athletic.  Our two inside ‘backers are probably some of the better ones in the area with Cam Lee and Nick Gaziano.  Off the edge we return All State Dylan Ridolph, who had 19sacks last year and is only a junior.  Our secondary returns Dorian Green and we’ll look for Julian Gonzalez, Noah Bigelow and a strong cast of others to secure the back part of our Defense and be just as strong as we were last year.”

Coach Kantor continued about the challenges the Bulls will face in District. “We’re excited to play Defense here at Wiregrass. Of course Plant does well year in and year out and is the defending District Champ, and they’ve been doing it for such a long time.  Gaither is up and coming as Coach Carson is a former Defensive Coordinator for me while I was at Gaither.  Sickles is rebuilt and their coach will do a great job in getting them going.”

“And… of course… us.”  You’ll have to watch out for the Bulls, as Coach Kantor and I described their District as a true battle of bullies, as I offered up it was like the (old) AFC West as teams kept beating up on each other, with the winner a TRUE Winner based on having to take care of your business in house first.

Coach Kantor had another analogy in mind, however, stating Wiregrass Ranch and their District peers were more like the old style (1970’s vintage era) NFC East skirmishes between the Giants, Cowboys, Redskins and Eagles, each attempting to survive a constant, consistent onslaught by your foes.  It sounds like some hard-hitting, play hard until the whistle sounds brand of football.

Stated Kantor, “Our division IS ‘Rough and Tough,’ so I tell our team to practice with great effort, which leads to your playing on Friday Nights with great effort.  We feel if we give great effort every Friday night, we have an opportunity to be VERY successful.”

Kantor undoubtedly intends to rely on a hard-hitting great defense to win these slugfests, hoping to resemble defensively their team from last year.  Their 56.8 tackles per game exceeded the National Average, while their 41 sacks and 15 interceptions in 2017 were over three times and twice the National Average in those statistics, respectively.   Additionally, all their other Offensive statistics exceeded the National Average as well.

If you remember your father stressing to you that “Defense Wins Championships,” Coach Kantor and the Wiregrass Ranch Bulls look to bring that tried and true expression to life again in 2018.

Jay “Captain Jack” Levy, BCP Contributor