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Even better days ahead?

By JOHN C. COTEY
Published May 30, 2007


NEW PORT RICHEY

Gulf's Jay Fulmer stalks the Bucs backfield, keeping a close eye on the line of scrimmage and the blocking. His arms are folded, one hand to his chin, and in a snap, he distorts his body - back bends then sways, face grimaces, arms flail - as another running play is stuffed.

But Fulmer isn't too upset about it these days. While it is easy to predict a gloomy 2007 season for the Bucs after losing star quarterback Alton Voss and a host of other dangerous offensive threats, he doesn't see it that way.

In fact, and he may be looking at his team through green-colored glasses, he believes the Bucs 6-5 last season that take the field in the fall might be better than the ones who produced the first playoff berth in school history last year.

"I think we're going to be better than we were last year, " Fulmer said. "We have the opportunity to be better. We have a lot better team chemistry. They're talented, but young, and I think they're going to be a thorn in a lot of people's sides."

A big cause for Fulmer's optimism is a group of guys who are close. Friends even, something he said last year's team wasn't.

Whether a tight-knit group of friends trumps a high-strung bunch of talented individuals is the big question.

One thing will be different - it won't be a one-man show as it often was last year. For the Bucs to succeed, they will rely on a ground-it-out running game, stout offensive line and stubborn defense.

Rising sophomore quarterback Madison Burr will step in for Voss, but handing the ball to the likes of Ridgewood transfer David Williams, Will Burbridge, Payton Ray and perhaps Julian Ford will be his primary goal.

"We did some 7-on-7 drills, but didn't really put any focus on the passing game, " Fulmer said. "We have been throwing the ball for two years and the running game has been awful. It's got to be fixed. When we've got backs like we've got, there's no reason for us not to be able to run the ball, to have some kind of running game.

"This spring, we made a commitment to that."

Ford is hoping to return to the playing field after legal issues kept him from spring practice. The rising senior was expected to be the Bucs' starter at running back and linebacker, but if he can't play his final season Williams will take over.

"Williams is special, " Fulmer said. "He's got some really good ability, some natural talent and speed and vision. He really jumped out at us this spring."

Before the Bucs can improve on a running game Fulmer said has been "terrible" the past few seasons, the offensive line must come together. Rising seniors Jene McGinnis, Steve Reid, Matt Phillips, J.D. Ramirez (tight end) and Chris Martitzen will anchor the group, and rising sophomore Louis Orr (6-foot-5, 275 pounds) opened some eyes this spring.

Orr and Ramirez also play on the other side of the ball, and middle linebacker Joe Messiana spearheads a defensive unit that should again be tough.

Gulf also will turn to soccer player Courtney Cohen to do its kicking. While she may not have the leg for kickoffs, Fulmer said she is solid from 35-40 yards out.

John C. Cotey can be reached at (813) 909-4612 or johncotey@gmail.com.

'Round the county in 12 days

Gulf

A team-by-team look at Pasco County football:

Coach: Jay Fulmer

Last year: The Bucs went 6-5 and finished runnerup in their district, losing to Orlando Bishop Moore in the school's first playoff game.

District: Class 3A-8 (Pasco, Zephyrhills, Hudson)

Did you know?: Bucs placekicker Courtney Cohen will be the first female to kick in a high school game this fall since Pasco's Amanda Newsome in 2001.

Breakout player: David Williams didn't mesh with the coaching staff at Ridgewood and as a result hasn't played varsity football the past two seasons. He seems to be getting along just fine at Gulf, however. The rising senior brings speed and a small but strong package to the running game, and even if Julian Ford doesn't return the Bucs could have a 1, 000-yard rusher on their hands. Williams was outstanding running the ball in the spring game and delivered a big hit on defense, too.

Who's back: Jene McGinnis will lead an experienced group on the offensive line, and J.D. Ramirez impressed coaches this spring. But other than that, the Bucs don't have too much back this season. If Ford returns from his legal woes, the Bucs will at least have the makings of a potent offense. "If he comes back, " said Fulmer, "it will be like an extra Christmas next fall."

What's new: The running game. Yes, the Bucs insist they will be running the ball this year after some "awful" attempts in the past few years. If it works, it will take a lot of the pressure off rising sophomore Madison Burr, who will take over the reins at quarterback after guiding the junior varsity team to a 5-3 record. Burr reminds Fulmer of a young Alton Voss, though he will need seasoning to approach the same kind of contributions the now-USF player made.

Spring revelation: Will Burbridge was looking like a potential starter at tight end, but Ford's absence forced Fulmer to stick him in at running back and now he's a potential starter in the backfield. He's 6-foot-2, 205 pounds and will get his share of carries. "We didn't even have him slated as a starter in the backfield; we had him slated at TE, " Fulmer said. "But we asked him to step in and he did a really good job. He saved our hides this spring. He's got all the tools."