WEWAHITCHKA — Bobby Johns had to stop and think at two separate stages when asked to compare the current Wewahitchka Gator football team to the one he coached last season.
“About 100 miles,” Johns finally responded when asked how far Wewa was ahead in preparation relative to 2017 at this time.
And then, “100 percent” when gauging how much stronger the Gators have become in the weight room.
As a result, Johns continued a tradition of rewarding his players who made all 27 offseason workouts with a trip to Shipwreck Island Waterpark.
“Physically we’re way ahead, we’re so much stronger,” Johns said entering his second season in Gulf County. “But experience level is the biggest difference.”
Johns said that the Gators were well on their way to an 0-10 season last year when he decided to scrap the no-huddle offense he was attempting to install. Instead, the Gators got back under center and ran the option.
Freshman Creed Pariera did a solid job of quarterbacking the offense, and also was one of seven starters going both ways for Wewa. This fall he will battle senior Cody Lee for the starting job, with Lee the stronger passer according to Johns.
The key there is that the Gators will have a capable backup, whoever wins the job, while both athletes still will be on the field a majority of the time.
“We’ve had seven games” with the new offense, “and a full spring,” Johns said. “We’re doing a lot more football stuff. We have a lot more under our belt.”
Johns said that the team’s best player is 6-foot-4, 222 pound fullback-linebacker Tyreek Thomas. The Gators still will have about six two-way starters, but Johns said the difference this fall is that there isn’t as much of a drop-off between starter and reserve.
“Last year when we got rolling we had 12 or 13 that could play,” Johns said. “This year, all 25 can contribute.”
That said, Wewa probably will go as far as its line strength on both sides takes it.
“Our offensive line is very experienced,” Johns said. “The same way on the defensive line.”
The Gators have switched to a 3-5 defense which fits the personnel, Johns said.
“We’re big in the down three, and the two outside linebackers are 6-4 and 220 and 6-3, 185.”
Wewahitchka could start the season with 17 seniors, including six who did not play last year. Another major change is the Gators’ amount of muscle.
“Last year, we had one player who could bench 300, and this year we have six and they’re all over 320,” Johns said. “We didn’t have anybody who could power clean 300, and we have four this year. Overall our team strength has improved.”
Offensive tackles Elijah Shackelford and Brett Miller are the two strongest players on the team. Johns is well aware, however, that Wewa could be much improved this season and it might not show up in wins and losses.
“Here’s the key; we still don’t have a tremendous breakaway threat,” Johns said. “You have to have that to be dominant and we don’t have that.
“We’re not slow anywhere, but we’re not fast. We need to control the line of scrimmage and keep the ball away from the other team so not to give up the big play.”
In other words, Wewa could win 10 games, or it could win three, Johns said.
“We’re a whole lot better. We’re a good little football team,” Johns said. “We can be very productive on offense, and much better on defense.
“Speed-wise we just don’t match up with the St. Joes. All we can do is not let (opponents) touch the football.”
Aug. 17: Jamboree at Bozeman, 6 p.m.
Aug. 24: at Port St. Joe, 6 p.m.
Aug. 31: at Lighthouse Christian Academy, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7: Christ’s Church Academy 7 p.m.
Sept. 14: Jay, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21: at North Bay Haven, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28: at Sneads, 7 p.m.
Oct 5: Liberty County 6 p.m.
Oct. 12: Cottondale 7 p.m.
Oct. 26: at Franklin County, 7 p.m.
Nov. 2: FAMU, 7 p.m.
(Region 2-1A, 3-7)
Port St. Joe 6-46
Lighthouse Christian 22-38
Child’s Church Academy 0-33
North Bay Haven 42-26
Liberty County 6-14
Franklin County 14-17
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Creed Pariera (so. QB-LB)
Cody Lee (sr. QB-CB)
Tyreeq Thomas (jr. FB-LB)
Elijah Shackelford (sr. OT)
Brett Miller (sr. OT)
Jacob Salerno (sr. S)
Trevor Nunnery (sr. FB-LB)
After losing their first four games by an average of 31 points, the Gators not only split their last six, but were highly competitive in five of them.