Years of struggling and poor seasons culminate tonight when the 9-1 Wildcats face Melbourne.
By MIKE READLING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 15, 2002
TAMPA -- It has become cliche to say a coach has watched his football program grow. After all, couldn't that be said about almost any playoff team that was once a perennial punching bag? In Richard Wood's case, however, he has watched the Wharton program grow.
He remembers when players such as Larry Edwards and Joe Hall were freshmen. He has watched quarterback Ross Corcoran grow from a super-skinny 150-pounder into the poised 190-pound, 1,000-yard passer he is today. He has had Chris Russell, Will Russell and Jason Novitsk on his varsity roster since the day they showed up for practice.
Wharton is unlike most schools that pack their varsity rosters with juniors and seniors then plug the holes with junior varsity players after graduation.
When Wood took over as coach after the second game of the 1998 season, he was charged with turning around a program that was 1-9 during its first season and 0-2 when coach Dan Acosta resigned. His plan was to build a program from the ground up, meaning the younger players would play and learn his pro-set offense. The result was plenty of bumps and bruises (2-8 records in 1999 and 2000, and last year's 4-6 output) but Wood, and more important, his players, believed.
Today, the Wildcats (9-1) will board a bus in front of the school during lunch, cheered on by students who will be let out of class for the farewell, and head to Melbourne for the program's first playoff game.
"I'm thankful and blessed to have this opportunity," Wood said. "These kids deserve it. You know I don't take it easy on them. It feels great that we've come to this. We've talked about it many times in the past. It's just icing on the cake for the kids who came in here and spent three or four years in the program."
The mood at Wharton the past week has been high-spirited, Wood said. The practices have been "like they were the week before the first game" and the school has been supportive.
"The kids are excited, the administration's excited. I appreciate it," Wood said. "It's better than the glumness we've had in the past."