Post Top 25 countdown: No. 6 Royal Palm Beach
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
by Matt Porter
Two years ago, Willie Bueno took over as Royal Palm Beach coach, tasked with whipping a lagging program into shape.
From individual players to the program as a whole, the results are showing.
Bueno, who won state championships at Glades Central and American Heritage, got Royal Palm back to the playoffs in his first season at the helm. He and his staff flipped the Wildcats from 1-9 to 7-4, offering a measure of stability for a team that had four head coaches in five seasons.
Last year, running back Tremane McCullough took Bueno's advice and began focusing in the classroom. He finished his senior year with 1,700 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns.
This year, the poster child for Royal Palm's turnaround is senior lineman Craig Smith. When Bueno's staff took over, they saw potential in Smith. First, they needed to see him make it through a practice.
Smith had athletic talent, playing football and lacrosse. But at 6-foot-5, he was close to 360 pounds.
When he first stepped on a scale in the Wildcats coaches' office, he didn't see a number.
He saw "ERROR."
"That was the worst," Smith said. "It was a problem."
Smith found the solution. He ran more and ate less, adding more protein and fiber and cutting out sweet drinks. Now, assistant coach Anthony Dangerfield said, Smith is down to 320 pounds. His bench press is close to 300 pounds. He squats 475. Colleges are interested in seeing him play this fall.
He's one piece in a motivated Wildcats group looking to prove last year wasn't a fluke. Smith returns as part of an experienced line protecting senior quarterback Ant McGrew (6-1, 160) and a deep cast of backs.
Running back and safety Charles Perry (6-2, 200), a Cardinal Newman transfer, could break out as a sophomore. Same with classmate Demarcus Holloway, who backed up McCullough last year.
Senior receiver JoJo Williams (6-3, 206) will be a matchup problem, as will junior Alon Sims (6-3, 195), who also plays outside linebacker.
Royal Palm returns most of its front seven and its entire secondary. Junior nose guard Josh Wilson (6-0, 295) squatted 615 in offseason workouts. Junior safety Jimmy Moreland (5-7, 165), who blocked seven kicks last season on special teams, and senior corner De'Andre Simmons (6-0, 175) are game-changers.
Looming down the line: Dwyer, which beat the Wildcats for the district title last year, and a tough Class 7A region. But Bueno believes this season could shape up to be a good one.
"We're not teaching them how to practice anymore. The kids visualize it, they can see it, and they want to get better," Bueno said. "Now it's about getting some wins."