Although Wewahitchka will not have a spring football game this season, Coach Bobby Johns “would like to, because that gives me a real evaluation of where we are.”
Wrapping up nearly three weeks of spring practice, Johns expected to have “right around 40 players, including rising seventh-graders” when fall practice began.
“We feel really good about our starters on both sides of the line,” said Johns, now in his seventh season since taking the helm as Gator coach in 2016.
“We’ve got backups who are really young, and we’re just thin on the line,” said the Gator head coach.
“We have two backup linemen on the entire team, (and) one is a rising ninth and the other a tenth. They’re going to be the first guys to step in and play.”
To help prepare his younger players, “they’re getting a lot of reps this spring. We made it a point that our young guys would get that, because once the fall comes around they don’t get as many. So this spring and summer will be really big for them, because we’re one injury away from not having somebody in a position,” said Johns.
Two reasons for the Gators being so thin on the line, Johns said, are that “we’ve lost eight kids who would be JV who did not come back to play from last year, plus we’ve got three varsity kids who aren’t playing and they would really help us (because) all three are linemen.”
As any good coach would do, Johns and his staff shifted players around from different positions so they could play the line.
One such player is rising senior Joey Salerno, a tight end last season who is taking over center responsibilities, with rising sophomore Noah Taunton as backup center.
“He’s not really a center, but he’s learning,” said Johns, who has moved players from tight end and blocking back to the line out of necessity due to the lack of depth.
“On offense, we do a ton of pulling. So moving kids who played fullback last year to guard makes sense, because they’re used to kicking out and they’re used to running,”
“We probably will be better on the offensive line this year than we were last year, just not as big,” said Johns.
If Wewa is thin on the line, they make up for it in the skill positions, especially running backs.
Although the Gators no longer will have Alex Williams or Landon Hysmith in the backfield, they do return rising junior Zay McDaniel, who rushed for 1,041 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
The Gators will also have P.J. Garrison, who moved to Wewa from Ware County High School in Waycross, Georgia. “He’s a really good player,” said Johns.
Another skill position player returning from last season is rising sophomore Tyrann Williams, who, like McDaniel and Garrison, will start on both offense and defense.
“(Small) 1A schools like us have the problem of having to play the same kids every play,” said Johns, who wrapped up spring practice on Tuesday, May 17 after two days of scrimmages on the football field.
“Typically, I don’t want a spring game, but this year I would have liked to,” said Johns. “I (never) know how long baseball or track will be going, so we’re not sure how many starters would be available to play in a spring game.”
Johns, whose Gator teams have never played a spring game since his arrival, compared scheduling a spring game to “rolling the dice,” due to the uncertainty of the number of players ready to go.
Fans can expect a couple of changes this season. First, Coach John Rogers has returned to Wewa and replaces Coach Seegers as defensive coordinator. Seegers moved to Blountstown.
Johns also teased that, even in his run-heavy offensive scheme, “we can throw and catch this year, so a good scenario for us would be to pass 10 or 11 times a game.”
When people have asked Johns about putting the ball in the air, his answer has been “When I can throw it and catch it. If we go through a practice and throw 20 balls and catch only three against air, I don’t have a lot of confidence to throw (the ball) in a game.”
“If we can pass, it makes the single wing and its misdirection more dangerous. I think we can (throw) this year,” said Johns.