ZEPHYRHILLS — Narrowly missing the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, the Zephyrhills High football team has been touted as a program on the rise in Pasco County.
With speed at the skill positions and solid play in the trenches, the Bulldogs (2-0) have proven worthy of the buzz so far in 2013. A win in its home opener tonight against Mitchell (2-0) would help Zephyrhills solidify itself as one of the county’s best teams.
In the fourth season at the helm of his alma mater, Bulldogs coach Reggie Roberts has established a culture of winning at Zephyrhills. Following a 1-6 start to his coaching career in 2010, Roberts has gone 17-8 since (two wins are FHSAA-enforced forfeits by Land O’ Lakes) and has made a once-proud program relevant again.
This season, the Bulldogs have won convincingly at Wesley Chapel and at Gulf. In those two contests, Zephyrhills has combined to score more points (77) than it did in the entire 2009 season (74). Humbly, Roberts gives credit where he thinks it is due.
“The key to our turnaround has been the kids, especially this year’s seniors,” Roberts said. “They’ve been with me since I started here and they have completely bought into the system. I still remember them as freshmen and I have seen them grow into men, so I am not looking forward to our last game of the year. It will be emotional, for sure.”
Of the 13 seniors on the Zephyrhills roster, two-way standout Devon Brockington has emerged as possibly the Bulldogs’ most indispensable player. Leading Zephyrhills in tackles, receptions and receiving yards, Brockington has found the end zone in both games and drawn attention of recruiters.
“He has great hands and he is probably our best route-runner,” Roberts said of Brockington, who has received interest from Wake Forest, Utah, Youngstown State, Southern Illinois, North Dakota State and others. “He does things in practice that you see at the college level and he’s really a student of the game. Devon always wants to learn, to get better, and he sets a great example for the younger guys.”
A four-year varsity player, Brockington was second on the team in receptions and receiving yards as a sophomore and has seen his role increase each year since. Part of his increased role is providing leadership to younger teammates, which he has embraced.
“I kind of grew into that (being a leader),” Brockington said. “It was a change of mentality and it has been tough at times, but I want to do whatever is necessary to help my teammates, my brothers, get better. I try to do the right things and lead by example.”
Looking back on how close Zephyrhills has come to reaching the postseason over the past two campaigns, Brockington is motivated and confident this year can be different.
“I want to enjoy my final season here and make the playoffs,” Brockington said. “I think we are more focused this year; we work hard every day. We have better athletes and I think we are a better team than we were last year. I’m pleased with how we’ve started, but we need to keep working and finish the season strong.”
PREDICTION: Correspondents Mike Camunas, Andy Villamarzo, Bart O’ Connell, Kyle LoJacono, Steve Campbell and Kenny Sanders all select Zephyrhills, while correspondent Chris Errington picks Mitchell.
Follow correspondent Kenny Sanders on Twitter @Kasander5.