As players arrived at their first post-Hurricane Charley practice on Aug. 25, they pointed to one of their teammates, a 5-foot-11, 192-pound junior running back named Kemoy Jason Wood.
“That’s the guy you need to talk to,” several players said.
Wood has given Port Charlotte coach Ray Hixson and his teammates a reason to be optimistic.
Following a 1-8 record in 2003 and the preseason storm that wrecked their locker room and ruined all of their equipment, the Pirates need plenty of optimism.
Wood rushed for 584 yards and seven touchdowns on 144 carries last season.
“He’s an excellent athlete,” Hixson said. “He’s going to carry the load. We expect a lot out of him.”
Wood has set a goal to rush for 1,000 yards.
“As long as the linemen are making the holes, I’m running through them,” Wood said.
Like his teammates, Wood hopes to make the best out of a tough situation following Hurricane Charley’s arrival on Aug. 13.
“We’re hurting,” Wood said. “But it could have been us.”
By “us,” Wood was referring to Charlotte High School, which has been closed for repair. The Tarpon football players will be attending classes in the afternoon at rival Port Charlotte.
“As long as they’re here to learn and play sports, I have no problem with it,” Wood said of sharing his school.
“From what I see, there’s a lot of damaged homes. We’ll use this as motivation. We want to do better than last season, and we want to improve on what we did over the summer.
“We might be a little bit behind, but the coaches will catch us back up.”
Wood will have plenty of help on offense. Will Orr, a senior, returns after completing 56 of 130 passes for 1,137 yards and six touchdowns last season.
Dustin Knisley, a senior who caught 22 passes for 531 yards, is back, along with other targets such as seniors Jon Leger and Ray Taboada.
Port Charlotte had to cancel its preseason game, and the Pirates will open the season at Bishop Verot.
“I think it will be good for the kids to get out and play,” Hixson said.