BY GENE NARDI
The football postseason has become an almost expected tradition at Royal Palm Beach High School. The Wildcats consistently make the playoffs in the county’s Class 7A District 13.
Coach Willie Bueno believes his squad has the potential to be competitive again this season. “We lifted and worked out every day during the summer,” Bueno said. “We’ve got a good group of kids, and we have some depth.”
Last year, the Wildcats earned the district runner-up spot after a one-point loss to William T. Dwyer High School. Royal Palm Beach then played perennial power St. Thomas Aquinas in the regional quarterfinals, which put an end to the postseason.
The Wildcats have reloaded in many positions and have many returning impact players. Some have been battling for starting roles on both sides of the ball. Quarterbacks Ta’norris Wilkerson and T.J. Young are both playing well, but the starter has yet to be determined.
Jerry Griffin will most likely lead the running attack. The 6-foot, 192-pound player had an 80-yard rushing touchdown in the Wildcats’ spring game against Park Vista High School. “We like our backs,” Bueno said. “We’ve got three really good backs, and they’re all young.”
Junior Brandon Adams stands at about 200 pounds and is extremely quick. K.J. Bowles and Ezekiel Brown will also contribute in the Wildcat backfield.
The offensive line returns three starters, so they’ll have plenty of experience in the trenches. Veteran tackle Miguel Scott will anchor the line. At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, he will be plenty to handle for opposing defenses. “Our receivers are young, but they’re learning, athletic and they’ll catch the ball,” Beuno said. “Offensively, we feel we have the chance to be pretty good.”
Defensively, the Wildcats look equally impressive. “We’ve got Devonte Gillins. He is one of the top players in the county,” Bueno said. “He has a few offers already and will start at linebacker.”
Trey Gilbert will also start at linebacker. Drew Matias will be a two-way player in the trenches. He also is a veteran return player from last year. The surprise player on the defensive side of the ball has been first-year player Jordan Brown. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, he will prove to be an impact player, Bueno said.
“We just have some younger guys who will have to grow and keep grinding every day, and we’ll be a whole different team come late October than we are right now,” Bueno said. “They really are a good group and have been fun to coach. They just have a really good understanding of what we’re doing, and that’s key.”
The kicking game has a promising look this season. Roland Tyson returns to lead the special teams. The soccer player has improved his consistency over the summer, honing his technique. “I think he’s going to have a really good year,” Bueno said.
Royal Palm Beach will contend for a district title this year in the always tough District 13-7A with Dwyer, Palm Beach Lakes, West Boca, Forest Hill and Olympic Heights high schools also zeroed in on the prize.
The Wildcats will kick off their season on the road Friday, Aug. 19 at 7 p.m. against Miami Central High School in a preseason kickoff classic.
ABOVE: The Royal Palm Beach defense works on covering the run during practice.