Led by a solid quarterback, coach Richard Wood says Wharton will be vastly improved.
By MIKE READLING
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
TAMPA -- Richard Wood wants to make a statement to the rest of the teams in Hillsborough County. And he wants to do it this season.
Wood figures four seasons of being kicked around the gutter of Hillsborough football is enough. This is Year 5, and he has something to tell everyone who looks at their schedule and marks down the "W" before even showing up. "Wharton is a football team now," Wood wants all those people to know.
Oh, the Wildcats have been a football team before. At least in terms of sheer numbers and the fact that a few of them could block and a couple of others could run and catch. Then there's the fact that they all wore pads and helmets, which contributed to the notion.
This year, however, there is an added element. It's called chemistry, and Wood said he likes the mix he saw in preseason practice.
"It's time," he said. "We lost some good players, but we didn't have a good team, T-E-A-M. We only have four or five seniors. Basically, everyone else has played together, and they're a close-knit group now. We've never had good leadership, but that's changed this year."
Wanting to make a statement and actually doing it are two entirely different things. And one of the biggest obstacles Wood and his players will encounter will be their opponents in Class 5A, District 6.
That group includes perennial power Hillsborough along with the much-improved Chamberlain and King. Gaither, Leto and first-year Alonso fill out the ranks. Wharton has never won more than two games. Although one of those was a 27-13 upset of Chamberlain two years ago.
"We are looking to win the conference and then win the district," Wood said. "We know it's going to be tough. There are some good teams in there with us.
"But I give us a good shot to definitely be in the conference race."
OFFENSE: Wharton probably has the best all-around quarterback the school has ever seen. Ross Corcoran mixes just enough athleticism with smarts to be effective, and he has the ability to make the passes when needed.
Corcoran attended the University of Florida camp and received special attention from coach Steve Spurrier. Mike Ussery a former backup quarterback at the University of Georgia and South Florida, also is working with the junior.
Wood plans to run an offense with a 50-50 pass-run ratio but will keep defenses in check with a covey of "three or four" good receivers.
"We'll be throwing it," Wood said. "(Corcoran is) very strong."
DEFENSE: Despite attracting 71 players to the first week of practice, Wood just can't seem to squeeze any size out of the North Tampa school. Lack of size generally means plenty of speed, and the Wildcat defense has no shortage of that.
Wharton lost cornerback Dwight Ellick to Notre Dame, but his brother, Chris, is waiting in the wings. The linebacking corps and linemen are not going to power opponents off of the ball, but Wood said what they lack in size, they make up for in quickness and smarts.
"Every coach wants to have speed," Wood said. "We happen to have a little bit. Last year was disappointing. We're going to change that."
SPECIAL TEAMS: Junior John Elliott will serve as the punter for the first time, bringing with him experience from the Ray Guy Kicking Camp. Wood said he would like to see Elliott add a little more hang time but will stick with Elliott through the season.
The placekicking chores will be handled by sophomore Kyle Bronson, who has a consistent leg from 40 yards and in but is charged with the difficult duties of filling the shoes of graduated Billy Wimberly.
COACH: Richard Wood, third season (5-23)
ASSISTANTS: Brian Cox, Earl Goodman, Jeff Johnson, Tim Jones, Jared Lewis, Melvin McKay, Dave Mitchell, Brad Prior, Trey Scholl, Craig Wallace
STADIUM: 20150 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa
CLASS: 5A, District 6
PLAYOFF HISTORY: None
OCT. 26, GAITHER: Wharton gets its chance for revenge after last year's 47-14 shellacking at the hands of the Cowboys. With the Wildcats supposedly better this year and Gaither supposedly down, this could be the one Wharton fans look forward to most.