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NEW PORT RICHEY – At one time, the Gulf Buccaneers were riding a 29-game losing streak before finally ending the skid against Anclote Sharks during the 2021 campaign.

Since then, the Buccaneers ended that season going 3-6 and winning their spring game versus the Sharks with the club setting higher expectations for the 2022 campaign. Gulf head coach Sean Eperjesi, a former Robinson High School player, sees that the group has come together very quickly and understands the program wants to take the next step.

“This group of Buccaneers has come together very quickly,” Eperjesi said. “Most of these kids have played for me at some point and understand the expectations of our program. They now understand exactly what is needed to succeed especially in regards to last season. They know that although they made some incredible improvements, last season is no where near the outcome that we anticipate and work towards.

“They then have an incredible off-season leading into spring which paid major dividends on the field. They went from a 2-point win in the fall to a 22-point shutout in the spring where the offense moved the ball extremely well and the defense had a bend-don't break style game. The improvement on both sides of the ball has been incredible.”

The Buccaneers lose top rusher/tackler AJ Blanton due to graduation, which is a big blow for Gulf but Eperjesi has some playmakers ready to step up to the challenge. One of those ready for the challenge is 6-foot-5 quarterback Ethan Holewski, who ended up throwing for 1,022 yards and seven touchdowns last season. As Gulf begins play within 3-suburban, District 6, the Buccaneers have a chance to compete for a district championship with Holewski back under center.

“Ethan (Holewski) has done an amazing job improving himself this off-season. His relentless work ethic and team first mentality is exactly what you want in a quarterback and a leader,” Eperjesi said.

“This off-season he has shown incredible progression in technique and decesion making, and has grown significantly in regards to reading defenses and understanding nuances of our offense. Not only that he has set incredible standards for the rest of the team. Him, as well as our rising seniors like Jonathan Leon, Austin Woods, Wyatt Stacy, and Alegaiosina Paselio, have really begun to turn this in to a player lead program.”

Gulf went through a bit of an overhaul when it came down to its coaching staff after the 2021 season and if you are a Pasco County high school football enthusiast, you’ll recognize some of the names right off the bat. Former River Ridge quarterback Pat Mathieson and his father, Scott, are the quarterbacks coaches along with Brendan Boniol as the passing game coordinator on the offensive end.

Flip over to the defensive side of the ball and coach Doug Benjamin, former River Ridge defensive coordinator, will be taking the same role on at Gulf. Throw in former Robinson High School head coach Mike DePue stopping in during the spring to coach and coming down in the fall when he can, the Buccaneers look at their coaching staff being even more of a strength in 2022.

“We had some great coaches last year whose dedication to the program really helped us turn in around and I will always be very thankful,” Eperjesi added. “We also got to add some guys this year that have already made some serious impacts with these kids. Pat and Scott Mathieson have really done an amazing job reinforcing the fundamentals with our quarterbacks.

“Coach Bones (Brendan Boniol) has helped our very young wide receiver group progress and develop very well. It looks to be a young group that will surprise some people this year. Coach (Doug) Benjamin has done a great job instilling a new mentality on defense. These coaches have also connected and developed kiddos that even myself thought were unreachable.”

Andy Villamarzo can be reached at andyvillamarzo@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @Andy_Villamarzo.