NORTH PORT — Senior wide receiver Nick Caster was put in a rather tough spot last season.
Following a season-ending injury to star quarterback Devon Allen, Caster was called on to take over the reins of the offense, a position he had never played in a game before.
This season, he will return to his natural position and is poised to become a top option in the North Port passing game. But while he doesn’t expect to hear his name called again, he will be ready if called upon.
Caster is a product of the North Port Mustangs Pop Warner football program, for whom he played for until high school.
After playing receiver most of his life, Caster moved to quarterback his freshman season at the request of then new head coach Brian Hatler, with his the bulk of his experience coming in the spring, having played a few reps in fall practice, that was about it, he said.
“When my name got called, I thought it was amazing. Devon was a big part of our offense, and when we lost him, that was a big deal,” Caster said, who played five games behind center for the Bobcats, sharing time with C.K. Poulos while playing free safety on the other side of the ball.
This season, with a pair of underclassmen battling for the starting quarterback position, Caster is moving back to wide receiver, where he played as a youngster. He said that the team has offensive talent, but that it will be the defense that needs to hold up its end.
“We have a great offensive line, running backs who run hard and when we score points the defense has to take over. We can win some football games that way,” Caster said. “Being a receiver is really not a change, you have to catch a football.
Caster is expected to become a leader on a team looking for its first winning season in school history.
“We have to play hard. We can’t take plays off, we have to play four quarters,” Caster said. “You have to do everything the right way, no goofing around and stay on top of everything.
A district like this isn’t conducive to winning if you’re a second-division team. Venice was state champion, while Palmetto and Braden River each made it to the second round of the playoffs. With traditional powers like this, and strong district programs such as Sarasota and Lakewood Ranch as well, wins will be hard to come by. The Bobcats will really have to bring it every week.
Brian Hatler has given what this team had been lacking for years; stability at the head coaching position.
But that isn’t much consolation after a 3-7 season and his two best players on offense, Devon Allen and C.K. Poulos, having graduated.
With a quarterback position still up in the air, Hatler said he will rely on the running game more, at least in the early going.
Devon Allen QB, C.K. Poulos WR; Dan Balsinger OL, Dez Peterson OL, Derrick Bradford, DB.
Jalien Whye RB, Brett Brown, OL, Josh Hogue, OL, Andrew Koennemann, OL, Nick Caster, WR,
Much of the offensive line returns from a 3-7 team last year, and with running backs Jalien Whye back, there should be some holes for them to run through. Junior John Victor Oliveira proved to be one of the top kickers in the area.
The quarterback position is up in the air between sophomore Steffan Johnson and junior Nick Gursinski, who is still recovering from injury. The defense is inexperienced, even if it did play well in the spring game. The schedule does them no favors either in a tough district and six of their 10 games on the road.
Players to watch
If the Bobcats go anywhere, it will be on the backs of the offensive line. Brett Brown, Josh Hogue and Andrew Koennemann will lead this group and hopefully make Jalien Whye and whoever starts at quarterback look good.
Under the Radar
Senior cornerback Robert Washington had a great spring and has earned the trust and praise of coach Brian Hatler. He can also be a threat as a running back. You might want to watch him, too.
PHOTOS BY TOM O’NEILL
The Bobcats practice Aug. 6 at North Port High School.
PHOTO BY TOM O’NEILL
The Bobcats practice Aug. 6, at North Port High School.