TAMPA — Heanon Tate always knew his son, Auden, was capable of performing incredible feats.
“When he was 2 years old, I told my wife he was going to be 6-foot-5,” Tate said. “Everybody thought I was crazy, but I said he was going to be 6-5 and he’s going to be able to do whatever he wants to do.”
Tate recalled a moment when 2-year-old Auden jumped down a stairway at their church and broke his foot. As he’s crying, Heanon said his son, while injured, climbed back up the stairs to jump again.
A week later, sporting a cast, Auden was once again at the top of the stairway, ready to leap.
“He’s always had that ability do to things and stuff didn’t scare him,” Heanon said.
So far, nothing has changed.
Standing 6-5 and weighing 205 pounds, Tate is regarded as one of the best receivers in the country.
As a junior at Wharton, he burst onto the scene with 815 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Weeks before the season, he verbally committed to Florida State and is planning to graduate from high school early to enroll at FSU in January.
Chase Litton, the quarterback who targeted Tate every Friday night last season, has graduated. This year, Tate understands his role is be a leader first.
“I feel like the quarterback we have now, we have two, and they’re real young so they’re going to progress,” Tate said.
“It’s my job to help them feel comfortable in the offense. I feel like they’re ready.”
Bryce Martin served as the backup quarterback to four-year starter Chase Litton last season. Now a junior, he has two years to make the offense his own. Easing his transition into the starting role will be 6-foot-5 receiver Auden Tate.
Head coach David Mitchell is hoping opposing teams will focus on Tate, leaving other receivers open down field.
“If (Tate) is able to get open in the slot route, it will open up coverage,” Mitchell said. “If he’s in double coverage, it makes it a cat-and-mouse game and better for us.”
Torrez Nesbit, a transfer from Michigan, is expected to replace Jeff Keil at running back.
Juniors Godey Coleus and Richard Drummond return on the defensive line, both coming off solid sophomore seasons. Drummond led Wharton in sacks with 3.5, while Coleus had two sacks.
Wharton’s secondary might be its strongest unit, Mitchell said, with Ozzi Williams and Miles Williams. Ozzi Williams tied for the team lead with three interceptions last season and will rotate from cornerback to safety.
Wharton had one of the more-challenging seasons of any team last year, losing teammate Sean McNamee to a life-threatening head injury suffered before a practice, losing starting defensive lineman Antonio Joseph to injury, and losing two consecutive district games to force a must-win situation in the regular-season finale against Bloomingdale.
The Wildcats overcame it all, though, defeating Bloomingdale in a come-from-behind win to clinch a playoff berth as the district runner-up. Though Wharton will be young, momentum from last year’s playoff run should carry over to this year’s team.
• About the Wildcats
Stadium: Mitchell D. Muley Stadium, 20150 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa
Class-District: 8A-6 (with Alonso, Bloomingdale, Newsome, Plant and Riverview)
Coach: David Mitchell (53-44, ninth season)
Last season: 7-4
Aug. 29: at Spoto
Sept. 5: Plant City
Sept. 12: Freedom
Sept. 19: at Riverview
Sept. 26: at East Bay
Oct. 2: Newsome
Oct. 10: Steinbrenner
Oct. 17: at Alonso
Oct. 24: at Plant
Oct. 31: Bloomingdale