By JACOB HOAG
NORTH PORT — After a long, hot summer, the North Port High football team finally got to open up fall camp, as did the rest of Florida on Monday.
Not a whole lot changes as far as practice goes, but serves as a warning of the fast-approaching season. The countdown for the Bobcats’ preseason game vs. Island Coast on Aug. 16 is now at 17 days and the prep time is dwindling.
“I thought we had a really good summer,” North Port coach Brian Hatler said. “The kids have worked really hard and we have a good chemistry. Kids are really growing together as a team and a lot of that is done in the offseason. They were pretty busy this summer but stuck with it.”
Like most teams, the Bobcats had plenty of seniors graduate and new athletes will try and step in to fill those voids.
In some cases, though, Hatler is able to plug in a versatile player wherever needed. That’s been senior Taylor Willis’ role for much of his four years with the team.
“Wherever they need me, I’m there,” Willis said. “I’ve played multiple positions my whole life. As long as you study and work hard every day it ends up being helpful in the long run.”
Willis currently plays running back, tight end, linebacker and safety, but has tools under his belt if needed. His most comfortable positions are safety and running back and his least is middle linebacker after spending time at outside linebacker in year’s past.
Playing multiple positions is difficult. It requires smarts and athleticism to be able to manage each role and what it entails. Willis has thrived in his various positions and continues to be a go-to leader on both sides.
“Taylor’s done a great job for us for four years,”Hatler said. “He does anything we ask him to do and is a team first guy. We like having him on the field because we can trust him.
“He saw significant playing time as a sophomore, so he has a lot of experience and has continued to get bigger and stronger and faster over that time. And his toughness has always been there, even when he was a little bit smaller.”
Linked to his play on the field, there’s a battle just as important that Willis and the Bobcats fight off it. And that’s the fight to instill a winning culture in the program.
As Hatler enters his fifth year with the team, this year’s senior class wants to continue the growth he and former Bobcats have established. Playing with a constant chip on their shoulders, Willis and his fellow seniors want to finish their high school careers on the uptick.
“We’re all getting excited,” Willis said. “We’re out here working every day and getting better. Everyone’s getting stronger, everyone’s getting faster and we’re starting to work better together as a team.
“I wanna win. I think (how we’re viewed) helps us perform. No one likes when people talk bad about you, so you always have a chip on your shoulder. That helps us practice harder and play harder every day.”