It is still summer, but the high school football fall season is underway. Local teams have hit the turf early in Palm Beach County. The first day of practice was held July 29, and the Wellington High School football squad has a strong returning group of athletes.
The Wolverines did not skip a beat in their spring game, defeating Fort Pierce Westwood. Players have stepped up since the departure of Mark Antony Richards to Auburn University, but the name still occupies a blue jersey for the Wellington team. Sophomore cousin Neville Richards plays on the offensive and defensive line for the Wolverines.
The Wolverines are typically known for their high-scoring offense, but this year, the defense looks to rival the other side of the ball, according to head coach Tom Abel, now in his eighth year at the helm.
“Our defense is finally looking pretty dang good,” Abel explained. “Everyone wants to see ‘Air-Wellington’ put up 40 points, but our defense is loaded this year. We have two guys who each had 15 sacks last season in Passeggiata and Cotter.”
Senior defensive end Stephen Passeggiata will anchor the defense and has several Division I offers on the table. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, he will give opposing offensive units trouble. Senior Mike Cotter will also add to the strength on the defense.
Offensively, the Wolverines will rely on sophomore quarterback Blake Kendall to lead the way. Kendall was thrown into the fire last season as a freshman and started five games.
Abel believes that experience has helped him develop entering this season.
“He’s ready. He has been grooming himself,” Abel said. “He listened to everything we’ve said. He knew how to read defenses and bumped out the other quarterbacks. We didn’t lose a beat, and Blake is the main guy.”
Adrian Hector, Tristan Abinet, Branden Butler and Finlay Toussaint will round out the receiving corps for the Wolverines — and all but one are well over six feet.
Kendall will have plenty of targets downfield. Senior offensive lineman Julian Odums will lead in the trenches. At 6-foot-3 and 320 pounds, he can deadlift 515 pounds. The line will average at 270 pounds, according to Abel. Lenori Williams will lead the backfield for the Wolverines. Tipping the scale at 225 pounds, he has good power and speed.
Special teams have been a strength for Wellington for years, boasting two Lou Groza winners, and senior Morgan Suarez was a nominee last season.
“This kid is amazing,” Abel said. “He’s a deep ball kicker on kickoffs and has a high percentage on field goals. He’s a five-star kicker.”
Expect the traditional on-side kick during the season from the Wolverines. “It’s no secret; it’s always going to be a part of our offensive game plan,” Abel added. “Tony Bugeja has done a wonderful job, and we’re blessed to have him as a part of our program.”
Bugeja is a longtime place kicker, holder and long-snapper position specialist trainer, and he trains many of the area special teams.
Wellington will host Treasure Coast High School for a kickoff classic on Friday, Aug. 16 at 6:30 p.m.
“It’s a special team, and all we have on our radar is Treasure Coast right now,” Abel said. “They’ve worked all their drills hard; they’ve been grinding.”
The Wolverines made it to the post-season last year, and they look to challenge for the district championship in a newly aligned district, with Seminole Ridge High School moving out and Forest Hill High School joining as the newcomer.