tampabay.com

Here and now

The Wildcats possess no shortage of depth this season, and they're not relying on past glory.

By JOEY KNIGHT
Published August 25, 2006


TAMPA - They appear to possess speed, experience, balance and Division I potential in some areas.

But if Wharton second-year coach David Mitchell has his way, the one characteristic the Wildcats will possess in bulk is amnesia.

At least the temporary kind.

For now, Mitchell wants his team to forget about the magical season of 2006, when it recovered from a season-opening loss to Freedom to reel off 10 consecutive victories and clinch the 9-year-old program's first district title.

But he might have better luck getting a jumbo-tron at his stadium. Really now, how does one forget the unforgettable?

"I'm just trying to - how do you say it - de-program," said Mitchell, who instantly resuscitated a team that went 2-8 in '04. "The only way you can de-program some people is, you have to have a little bit of tough love and bring them back to reality."

Fourteen starters are back - 15 if you count quarterback Joshua Powell, who worked the final six quarters of the playoffs after Chris Krcmar broke his arm.

"We've got most of our team returning," standout senior linebacker Josh Jones said. "We lost a couple of players on the (offensive) line which we're making up, and a couple of guys in the secondary which we're making up as well ...We're going to be looking pretty good."

THROUGH THE AIR: When Krcmar went down late in the first half of last season's Class 5A playoff opener against Alonso, Powell stepped in and helped preserve a 14-13 triumph. He struggled the following week in a 16-14 loss to Lake Gibson, but found Ryan Dixon for a 17-yard touchdown in the final three minutes.

Now Mitchell says Powell possesses the talent to lead Wharton back to the playoffs. Easing his transition from backup to starter will be the return of Ryan Dixon and Roshard Green, the Wildcats' top two receivers in '05 (31 combined catches in regular season).

ON THE GROUND: Senior tailback Joel Miller, who flourished (1,457 yards) when Mitchell scrapped Wharton's spread offense for a more conventional attack upon his hiring, returns to lead a unit that again should run about 60 percent of the time. He'll be complemented by 200-pound fullback Ladre Watkins (469 rushing yards in regular season).

Senior left tackle Rod Saint-Juste (6 feet, 245 pounds) is the only lineman who will start at the same position he occupied in '05, and also the most agile.

DEFENSE: If everyone stays healthy, the Wildcats should possess one of the county's fiercest run-stopping units. Seven starters return from a unit that allowed 220.9 yards a game in the regular season - fourth-fewest among county public schools. Six could line up in the box at any time, including Jones, one of the area's most agile outside linebackers.

Jones' younger brother Jairus, a sophomore strong safety, is the only returning starter in the secondary, the area of greatest concern for Mitchell. Seniors Dino Cox and Jamere Johnson, a pair of rangy 220-pounders, solidify the line.