WEWAHITCHKA — Loren Tillman wanted a challenge. He’ll get one in Wewahitchka.
The longtime Bozeman coach left Sand Hills for a new position this fall, one that brings with it a football team that took another dip in 2013. The Gators won two games last year, one fewer than in the previous campaign, and fell to the depths of District 2-1A. They were blown out in most of their games and gave up 48 or more points to three district opponents.
Wewa’s two victories came against winless North Bay Haven and Franklin County. In other words, there’s much work for Tillman, but he remains confident.
“Things are definitely on the upswing and I feel comfortable with where we’re at,” he said. “We have 11 sophomores and a bunch of those are gonna play. But they’re ready to play. They need to play.”
Tillman is aware of the cyclical nature of the Rural division. The state’s grouping of smaller schools provides a more level playing field. He learned at Bozeman the importance of timing, as the Bucks used the seasons when they had more talent than other smaller schools to win up to a school-best eight games and advance to the playoffs.
The division also helped Wewa, when three seasons ago the Gators finished second in the district for their first playoff berth since 2005 under Greg Jordan. Five wins over two seasons won’t produce the same magic, obviously, but there’s always the potential for a 2011 repeat should things fall the Gators’ way.
“We’ve been pushing them toward the district ballgames,” Tillman said. “We’re making strides to be ready and stressing the importance of Week 2. We don’t expect to be great in May, we don’t have to be perfect in August, but when the calendar changes to September we need to be pretty good.”
Wewa might have a ways to go to contend with Vernon in the district, but Tillman believes the Gators could make a leap in the coming years. There’s talent on the team already with a few offensive threats back in the lineup, including standout Rashard Ranie at quarterback and a line featuring four players at 260 pounds or heavier. The goal this season is to build experience and depth.
Outlasting foes in Class 1A helped Bozeman reach new heights. It did the same for Chipley, Blountstown, Vernon and Cottondale, which have made long runs in the playoffs in recent seasons. Stability will be important in potentially bringing back respect to the Gators.
“We worked hard in the summer and they pounded in the weight room,” Tillman said. “They’re ready to play.”
Last season: 2-8 (0-4 District 2-1A)
Head coach: Loren Tillman, first year
Returning starters: 5/5
Aug. 22 Franklin County 7 p.m.
Aug. 29 at Port St. Joe 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 5 Cottondale 7 p.m.
Sept. 12 Liberty County 7 p.m.
Sept. 19 Graceville 7 p.m.
Oct. 3 at North Bay Haven 7 p.m.
Oct. 10 Maclay 7 p.m.
Oct. 17 at Sneads 7 p.m.
Oct. 24 at Vernon 7 p.m.
Oct. 31 at Franklin County 6:30 p.m.
Nov. 7 West Gadsden 7 p.m.
Port St. Joe L 45-20
at Cottondale L 22-14
at Liberty County L 46-8
at Graceville L 48-0
Franklin County W 40-14
North Bay Haven W 34-13
at Maclay L 40-12
Sneads L 53-14
Vernon L 55-0
at West Gadsden L 49-34
Standouts: Rashard Ranie (jr. QB/DB), Tad Gaskin (sr. WR/DB), Jarod Melvin (sr. OL), Chipper Gainey (sr. OL/LB), Brett Satterfield (sr. LB), Kaleb Shiver (jr. DB).