tampabay.com

Up-and-comers

Ricky Thomas is on board to mold the county's newest program into a powerhouse.

By MIKE CAMUNAS
Published August 25, 2006


WESLEY CHAPEL - Just like its school, the Wiregrass Ranch football program is still under construction. It is a work in progress, just like its facilities that won't be finished until fall 2007.

But it's just what coach Ricky Thomas - a household name in Pasco County coaching - wants: to build a program with his family.

"I'm going to take a lot of pride around here," said Thomas, who coached Pasco, his alma mater, to a 45-29 record from 1996-2002. "My wife has always said to me, 'Football is you. Coaching is what you do. You're just not the same without it.' So now that my son is old enough to be involved and my wife will be involved as well - I don't think I would have come back if they couldn't be involved."

Thomas did cite his family when he semi-retired in 2002, but he couldn't stay away for long. In 2005, he took over the coaching job at Weightman Middle School, the program he started in 1991. So with his family on board - his 6-year-old son, Ricky, will be the team's water boy - Thomas is happy to take the reins of his Bulls.

"I wasn't gone for long, and once I got back, it was just like riding a bike," Thomas said. "I've got the passion back. I've got the fire back, and I'm glad to be back out (on the field)."

Thomas becomes the third coach to start a football program in Pasco County in the past 15 years. In 1991, Scott Schmitz started the River Ridge program, then went on to start Mitchell's program in 2000. John Castelamare started the Wesley Chapel program in 1999.

"It's very nice that myself and my coaching staff get the opportunity to put our stamp on things," Thomas said. "Because whenever you are the first to do something, no one can ever take that away from you."

Castelamare, who began with a varsity team and took his Wildcats to their first playoff appearance in their third season, knows Thomas, who will start with a junior varsity team, has plenty of work.

"Just like us, we had no facilities," Castelamare said. "We didn't have a stadium the first year either. He will also take something like 15-20 guys from me though. So it's not that tough, but it won't be easy."

Thomas doesn't exactly see it that way, but realizes there will be a rivalry with Wesley Chapel. Thomas was part of the 8-mile war between Pasco and Zephyrhills for years and expects one to evolve eventually.

"I can see where it could become an intense (rivalry)," Thomas said. "We'll just have to wait and see."