MINDS OVER MATTER
By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
ZEPHYRHILLS -- They were undermanned, as usual, but what stung the Bulldogs most about last year's loss to Wesley Chapel was the way Zephyrhills let it show on the scoreboard.
The Bulldogs lost twice last year: a frustrating but ultimately harmless four-point decision to Orlando Olympia and ... a 43-14 humbling at the hands of the up-and-coming Wildcats.
"It's stuck with me," coach Tom Fisher said. "I've made it pretty clear to the kids that we didn't play well against them last year. We pretty much played a complete ballgame Friday night (a 35-34 win against Class 6A Orlando Olympia) and a lot of kids left everything they had on the field. Now we have to get it all back so we can do it again."
There's a difference between what Zephyrhills (3-1) accomplished last week and the challenge the Bulldogs face tonight. Olympia hasn't won since it beat Zephyrhills in Week 4 last year. Wesley Chapel hasn't lost in 17 regular-season games.
Whomever the foe, the Bulldogs say their mental approach is the key. They blame that area for last year's loss to the Wildcats and a 36-0 defeat by Land O'Lakes three weeks ago.
"It's on all of our minds," senior lineman Shane Hand said. "It's a revenge thing. It's making up for last year. Last year was a fluke. We weren't playing good, the same as Land O'Lakes, got a big head and they got us. But we're all in it this week."
Said Fisher: "It's mental toughness. If we're healthy, we've got the physical toughness. It's just not making mental mistakes."
The Bulldogs have bounced back since the Land O'Lakes loss. Senior quarterback James Adamo has shown dramatic improvement from the first two games to the last two, throwing for nearly twice the yards, while doubling his completion percentage and touchdown totals. Against Mitchell and Land O'Lakes, Adamo completed 17 of 47 passes (36 percent) for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns. In wins against Hudson and Olympia, Adamo connected on 23 of 32 passes (72 percent) for 299 yards and 4 touchdowns.
"He was just getting into rhythm, improving each game," said Fisher, who also has found a strong backfield rotation, splitting carries among four backs.
Senior fullback Justin Cobb leads the Bulldogs with 316 yards and five touchdowns, but three underclassmen -- juniors Sidney Williams and Travis Mickle and freshman Bryan Thomas -- have had 10 or more carries in the past two games.
"Everybody has to realize their role," Fisher said of his crowded backfield. "It's going to be hard for us to have a 1,000-yard tailback this year, but the total yardage is what we're looking at."
The most promising is Thomas, a starting defensive back who was eased into the lineup at receiver but has now shined in two weeks in the backfield.
"He's a natural tailback, but it's tough to stick a freshman in at tailback from the get-go," Fisher said. "We put him at a less of an impact position to get his feet wet and get a taste of what it's all about. He's stepped right in and played real well."
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111