[Times photo: Dan McDuffie]
Tyrone Tomlin, far right, and his Wesley Chapel teammates may have been the class of the county, but quarterbacks, from left, Ben Alford of Pasco, Drew Weatherford of Land OLakes and James Adamo of Zephyrhills have their sights set on dethroning the Wildcats.
With their record, it's expected foes will work hard to knock them off.
WESLEY CHAPEL -- It is the first day of football practice, and John Castelamare has the full attention of 85 players.
The Wildcats last lost a regular-season game during the Clinton administration, but Castelamare isn't crossing the Ts in titles many have handed to his team. On this day, the Wildcats are learning the boil-and-bite intricacies of molding a mouthpiece.
Even though he returns a team as talented as any on the North Suncoast, Castelamare starts with the basics, a strategy that paid off quickly. After winning four of its first 17 varsity games, the fourth-year program finished the 2001 regular season with 13 consecutive victories.
"We're going to have to work real hard to duplicate what we did, because every team we play is going to be better, and they're going to want to play as hard as they can to beat us," Castelamare said. "The kids know the effort has to be better from the start."
The basics, then, about Wesley Chapel. Senior tailback Tyrone Tomlin, who rushed for a county-record 1,731 yards last year, is returning from knee surgery in the spring. While he eases back in, senior Greg Harrison, who rushed for 517 yards and three scores last year, will be the workhorse. Expect the Wildcats to throw more, with talented sophomore Nigel Bryant and 6-foot-2 Jon Muhammad the top targets.
Defensively, the pass-rush combo of Jason Boyd and Jason Boyette graduated, but look for 6-6, 256-pound defensive tackle Derrick Gentles to anchor this year's line. Castelamare faces a greater injury risk at quarterback because two of the top contenders for the starting nod -- defensive end Chase Polston and linebacker Corey Filley -- also start in the defensive front seven.
On special teams, all-state punter/kicker Gilbert Montelongo graduated, but his brother, Gabriel, transferred from Pasco, just as his brother did last year.
The schedule is tougher this year. Wesley Chapel's three games against eastside rivals are on the road. The Wildcats close the season with three games away from home, traveling to Pasco, Hudson and Land O'Lakes.
"Those last three are big-time," said Castelamare, whose school's home stadium wasn't opened until the team's second season. "There's two district games in there, so it's tough, but we're used to being away."
The regular-season streak might not end when you expect it. The Wildcats' last regular-season loss came in October 2000 to Ridgewood, 27-3. The Rams have won just two of 14 games since but welcome the Wildcats to New Port Richey on Sept. 27.
OFFENSE: John Castelamare has run the simple-but-deadly Wing-T offense for years, and can run about five basic plays just out of the "Sweep Right" alignment. He can flip the play to the weak side or run a fullback draw if the defense is stacking heavily to the strong side. The real fun comes after the touchdowns, when Wesley Chapel has used a "Polecat" alignment, which has three linemen split wide with a receiver behind them. Going for two was more exciting and more effective than the ordinary extra point last year.
DEFENSE: Wesley Chapel works out of a "5-3" defense, with five down linemen and three linebackers. As much attention as the Wildcats offense gets, its defense posted four shutouts last season and gave up no more than 14 points in any regular-season game. "If you have a real good middle linebacker, you can run a 5-3," said Castelamare, who has Pasco transfer Maurice Standifer and Corey Filley battling for that spot. "There's a lot of pressure on the inside linebacker when he's there by himself. If he's good, a lot of good things can happen." Many teams facing the Wing-T use five down linemen, so Wesley's defense winds up making its offense better prepared.
WESLEY CHAPEL WILDCATS
COLORS: Navy blue, light blue and white.
CLASS: Class 3A, District 7.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: 2001.
LAST APPEARANCE: Lost to Wauchula Hardee 35-22.
HEAD COACH: John Castelamare (17-14 in fourth season at school; 57-94 in 15th season overall).
ASSISTANTS: Joe Brown, Brian Colding, Charlie Helm, Tony Lister, Tom McHugh, Scott Nichols, George Wortley.
WILDCAT STADIUM: From eastbound S.R. 54, turn left onto Curley Road and head north. Turn left onto Wells Road and pass Weightman Middle School on the right. From westbound S.R. 54, turn right and head north onto Curley Road. Take a left at Wells Road.