John Coyne is everything you could want in an offensive lineman on the field, and perhaps more than you would expect from a player at his position off of it.
The senior offensive lineman is a picture of leadership, stability and reliability, three qualities which the Wiregrass Ranch High football team lacked a year ago during a winless season where seemingly nothing went right.
Much of it wasn't the fault of Coyne or anybody else. The Bulls suffered early injuries to their starting quarterback, Jake Day, and running back, Jamie Barone, which disrupted the development of the offense. That combined with the toughest schedule of any Pasco County team led to the struggles.
Nevertheless, some changes were needed, and coach Jeremy Shobe looked to Coyne to spearhead them. During the offseason, Coyne and 11 of his teammates convened weekly at the suggestion of Shobe to form a leadership group, where the players and coaches built camaraderie. That led to a high turnout in the weight room, where 50 to 60 kids on average came to campus four days a week during the summer.
"We bonded as a team," Coyne said. "High-intensity workouts during the summer. It was full-go all the time, hard work."
There's little doubt that Wiregrass Ranch has some top-level athletes in key positions. The question is, do they have as many as their formidable district foes from Hillsborough County. Coyne believes they do.
"We weren't ready for it," Coyne said of playing Hillsborough teams in 2011. "The intensity. They were quick, but every drive, every play was full-go, 100 percent. They really wanted it, and that's what we got this summer, the attitude of Hillsborough County teams. Athletically we are right there; it was just the attitude on the field we were lacking the most."
Coyne can play center, but he is expected to start at left tackle to help protect the blind side of new starting quarterback Shane Bucenell, allowing Day to move to receiver and defensive back where he can play both ways. The Bulls also need to better establish a running game this season, and believe a healthy Barone, along with fullback Eli Galvan, may make that much easier to do.
But there is no doubt that in order for the offense to improve to where it needs to be in order to compete, Coyne and the rest of the offensive line need to establish itself.
"The line is going to be the key for us this year," Shobe said. "We've got a couple spots we're still trying to fill."
Coyne is confident that this year won't be anything like last year.
"It won't be," he said. "We won't let it be."