Posted: 8:54 pm Wednesday, May 18th, 2011
By Matt Porter
Note: Welcome to the PBGametime 2011 Spring Football Tour. During our three-week tour, we visit area teams, meet some of the top players and answer the most pressing questions. Today’s stop is Royal Palm Beach, where new Wildcats coach Willie Bueno is trying to get a young team headed in the right direction.
Click below to see the video, and come back at PBGametime.com in the coming days as we make more stops around the area.
New Royal Palm Beach coach Willie Bueno wants his players to take a step back before they move forward.
“I think number one is for them to start caring about Royal Palm Beach High School and this football program,” Bueno said. “I don’t know how it’s been in the past, but I know how it’s going to be from here on out – to be part of this team, they’re going to care about their teammates, they’re going to care about their school. Once you start caring about something, there’s a different level of commitment. Once we get there – we’re not there now, by no means, but I think some guys are finding out that this isn’t what they signed up for. I’m pleased, and I think our kids have given great effort since we got here in February. I think we’ve got a chance.”
Bueno, who was hired after Frank Kunf stepped down, takes over a program that went 6-15 the last two seasons, scored 9.1 points per game last year and gave up 26.5. The Wildcats made a District 12-5A three-way tiebreaker game thanks to their only win of the year, against John I. Leonard, and lost in the first mini-game to Santaluces.
Bueno has had success at both Glades Central and American Heritage, where he won a combined three state championships. He says he’s laying the same groundwork at Royal Palm.
“They’re understanding how to practice and what’s expected of a championship football team,” Bueno said. “Some guys are not making practice a priority right now, and to be a great football program you have to. It’s a mentality that’s going to change over time.”
Some coaches talk about the big-time players they have. Bueno doesn’t. He’d rather talk about pride. As such, wins are not the focus in year one.
“The guys buying into what we’re doing, committing, coming to practice every day, coming to the workouts every day, starting to care about their teammates, care about their school. I think that’s where we have to start. Once you get a bunch of guys doing that, the wins are going to come. Everywhere I’ve been, it’s been that way. Once we start caring about being Royal Palm Beach football players, we don’t need to worry about wins, because they’re going to come.”
Take a look at the program now. See it as a snapshot of the first step in a rebuilding process. Bueno did it at American Heritage, which hadn’t won anything before he got there. It’s a different ballgame at Royal Palm Beach, but he certainly knows what he’s doing.
Some other factors of note:
Numbers game. Royal Palm has 63 players at practice. It could be more, Bueno said, but there are “some eligibility issues.”
“There are some guys who, it’s just not important to them right now,” Bueno said. “School’s not. Can’t win with those guys anyway. We’ve got to get that changed.”
Aside from last year’s leading receiver, no one has a starting spot locked up. Tremane McCullough (5-8, 155, 4.45) is an electrifying athlete and looks to start on both sides of the ball. He has interest from several schools, including Northern Illinois, Texas Tech, Western Kentucky, Illinois and Miami. Schools are interested in him as a tough, ball-hawking defensive back.
“They like how I compete,” McCullough said. “I never give up. I’m always attacking the ball. I play hard.”
Juniors-to-be T.J. Abrams and Anthony Magrew are competing for the QB spot. Abrams split time last year with rising senior Brock Bukowski, who transferred to Palm Beach Central.
On the offensive line and at running back, Bueno said the Wildcats “really don’t have anything that’s solidified yet.”
Linebackers Teddy Matthews and Javian Greene, both seniors this fall, look to have spots on defense. Bueno said four or five seniors will see playing time.
Coaches inspire confidence. There currently exists a culture of free agency in high school sports, especially football. The impact and ramifications of that are a discussion for another time, but the fact remains that high school student-athletes often try to transfer schools for a better athletic opportunity. With uncertainty this offseason after two-year coach Frank Kunf stepped down, McCullough admits he explored switching schools.
Then he met Bueno and his staff. He says that was reason enough to stay.
“At one point in time, I was going to transfer,” he said. “But these
coaches came along and I knew there was something about them. I’m glad I stayed. I can already tell I made the right choice.”
Tough way to go out. Royal Palm will have to deal with star running back Kelvin Taylor and Glades Day in a May 28 spring game, but the toughest games are at the end of the year.
The Wildcats have three non-league games to start – Pahokee, John I. Leonard, a bye and Palm Beach Central – and begin play in the new District 13-7A with Santaluces and Spanish River. From Oct. 14 to the end of the season, RPB better be on its game; they have West Boca Raton, Lake Worth, Atlantic, Dwyer – considered the four best teams in 13-7A – before ending the season at Seminole Ridge.