Posted: 9:51 pm Monday, October 10th, 2011

Head coach Willie Bueno leading turnaround at Royal Palm Beach 

By Matt Porter

After six weeks of the 2011 season, the area’s best turnaround story is Royal Palm Beach. Willie Bueno is the main reason why.

The Wildcats were 1-9 last year. Their only win earned them a spot in three-way district tiebreaker, which they lost. That left a bitter aftertaste to a season that started in tears.

Bueno

Bueno

One of the Wildcats, 17-year-old Ja’Quavious Willingham, was shot and killed just before fall practice began.

Players are still dealing with the loss of their teammate. For sophomore Curtis Pryor, Willingham’s brother, the hurt will never go away. Some players pointed to Willingham’s death as one of the reasons last year went into a tailspin before it got off the ground.

Before he could get them refocused on football, Bueno had to stir up a sense of school pride. “We want them to start caring about Royal Palm Beach High School, first and foremost,” he said in the spring.

Bueno, who brought an 80-21 career record and won state titles at Glades Central and American Heritage, has coached Royal Palm to a 4-1 (2-0 District 13-7A) record heading into Thursday’s district game with West Boca Raton.

He’s been a huge help to senior Tremane McCullough, the subject of a story running in Tuesday’s Post. McCullough always had talent — he caught 49 passes for 535 yards and four touchdowns in his sophomore and junior seasons – but his grades and attitude kept colleges from showing real interest.

“We watched his film last year and watched him play,” Bueno said. “He did some really good things, and some things that weren’t so good. Consistency is the thing we talked about. He needs to play at that level all the time.”

Junior quarterback Ant McGrew, like many of his teammates, is standing tall this season. Click here for more Royal Palm Beach photos. (Brandon Kruse/The Palm Beach Post)

Junior quarterback Ant McGrew, like many of his teammates, is standing tall this season. Click here for more Royal Palm Beach photos. (Brandon Kruse/The Palm Beach Post)

Bueno said now McCullough is now an example for his teammates. He is a huge reason why the Wildcats, despite being young at the skill positions and on the line, lead area large schools in offense (222, or 44.4 points per game), total yards (2,095) and are second in rushing (1,501).

Junior quarterback Ant McGrew has found receivers with regularity, completing 34 of 60 passes for 566 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception. He’s also a threat to run (66 carries, 435 yards, seven touchdowns).

“He’s like our offensive line in that he’s got better every day,” Bueno said. “I think he’s going to have a chance to be a really great player in the county [next year].”

Pryor has racked up 201 yards and two scores on just eight catches. Junior receiver JoJo Williams has 11 catches for 154 yards and four scores. Freshman running back Demarcus Holloway has 31 carries for 195 yards and four touchdowns.

The Wildcats will need everyone contributing in the final four weeks, when they play four tough district games. They travel to Lake Worth Oct. 21, they host No. 5 Atlantic, then play No. 3 Dwyer and No. 8 Seminole Ridge on the road. No matter the results of those games, the attitude is much different than last year, when McCullough said the team butted heads with coaches and each other.

“We’re a family more than last year,” McCullough said. “We used to hang in certain groups with certain people, but now we have team dinners and we all laugh together. We’re a family and we work hard together.”