NEW PORT RICHEY — The last time Gulf reached the playoffs was 2008.
That season, the Buccaneers featured one of the best offensive lines in Pasco County and had several skilled athletes on both sides of the ball.
In 2013, the Bucs were without the strength of a strong offensive line.
Though the team had success in 7-on-7 play this summer, offensive lineman Chance Belloise knows the 2014 season will fall on the shoulders of the big boys up front. Belloise spent the summer training many of the underclassmen linemen and feels all are improved.
“We've got a lot of new linemen in and I've been training them to my best abilities,” Belloise said. “We feel confident in the young guys. They've been wanting to learn and that's amazing. From hitting the pads and everything else, you can tell they've been in the weight room training. I have a lot of confidence in them.”
Second-year coach Jason Messamore knows he has to keep the skill players grounded from the success in the passing leagues, especially since there were no linemen besides a center snapping the football.
“I remind them that 7-on-7 is not real football,” Messamore said. “That in order to win football games you have to block and tackle. I think they realized that. I tell them it's very difficult to go from 1-9 to a winning record. We have to take all the steps necessary to get there, and we can't skip any or it won't work.”
Belloise (6-foot-5, 256 pounds) and Yanquier Bastian (6-1, 325) create a formidable duo to offer protection to quarterback Ke'Shaun Peters. Indeed, Gulf's success will start in the trenches.
“I think all of us have confidence in one another,” Belloise said. “... We know (we have good skill-position players), we're just focusing on getting ourselves better as linemen. I think we'll match up pretty good in the season.”
The Buccaneers have a bevy of athletes at the skill positions, especially with Ke'Shaun Peters back in the fold and under center this fall. The dual-threat quarterback will create problems for defenses, and Avery Welch moves to running back. The Buccaneers return Uly Velez, Morgan Smith, Rai'Qwan Hayes and Deandre Hopkins to the receiver position.
Many of Gulf's starters on offense will flip over to defense, as Hopkins has shown the ability to be a top cornerback after an impressive spring game against Weeki Wachee. Also playing defense will be Welch (linebacker) and lineman Chance Belloise. Velez, Peters, Smith and Hayes also should see time on defense this fall.
The Buccaneers are one of the most puzzling teams heading into 2014. They have all the skill to compete with just about anyone in Pasco County, but their offensive line problems are concerning and the Bucs still might be a year away from competing for the playoffs. Most coaches in Class 5A-District 7 believe the district is wide open, so Gulf might have just as good a chance as any team.