Our reporters are out covering the first day of high school football practice in Southwest Florida.
This file will be updated as reports are sent in from each school:
Entering his third season with the Cougars, coach Mark Ivey had 64 players in shorts and helmets Monday during the first day of practice. He’s had more in the past, but Ivey said he’s rarely had a group that works as hard as this year’s.
“We have 64 guys that are absolutely going to get after it,” Ivey said. “I don’t have any questions about anyone out here, varsity or JV. If they went through what we put them through this summer … they should be a pretty solid group.”
Ivey’s hard-nosed crew is the product of an intense summer conditioning program. The Cougars were in the weight room nearly every day and attended multiple camps in which they practiced in full pads up to four times a day.
Because Barron Collier works so hard in the summer, Ivey doesn’t feel the need to whip his players into shape on the first day of practice. The Cougars are one of few teams in the area that don't hold two practices a day leading up to the start of the school year.
“I want the kids to realize if they work like that in the summer, when we get (to fall practices), this is the reward,” Ivey said. “If you can make it through our summer program … the fall is the payoff.”
-- Adam Fisher
After going 0-10 last season, it’s safe to say the Estero Wildcats have some work to do heading into the 2009 football season.
“The kids put in the work during the spring and they were here all summer,” Estero coach Rich Dombroski said. “They truly believe that this is the year we can turn this around.”
Dombroski said being relatively new to Estero – 2008 was his first season – has helped change the culture at the school.
“It works in my favor being a new head coach because I’m fresh blood,” he said. “Our theme last year was ‘believe’ and it took us nine games to get to that point last year and we reached the point where we genuinely believed that it was our game to win our lose.”
Now that the Wildcats believe they can win, Dombroski said the team will be making its own opportunities, rather than wishing for the other team to make mistakes.
— Woody Wommack
First-year Golden Gate head coach Steve Crowley admitted he was feeling a little "anxious" the night before the Titans' first fall football practice.
"But they all showed up," Crowley said on Monday, after a grueling 7 a.m.-noon practice with about 70 candidates for the varsity and junior varsity teams. Crowley, who coached the freshman team at Golden Gate last season, is hoping to help his team turn around a 1-9 season in 2008.
He replaced well-known area coach Dave Tanner, who had been at Golden Gate since the school opened in 2004.
High on Crowley's priority list for fall practice are fundamentals and establishing a stronger presence on the offensive line.
"That's the big key to the puzzle," Crowley said of the offensive line, which has only one returning starter from the 2008 squad.
As for the 2009 season, Crowley said: "I guess every team's goal is to win every game, but we're not stupid. We just want to get better every game ... we need to focus on the little things, not big plays. We're looking good physically; mentally we still need to get there."
-- Angela Busch
With six starters on offense and seven on defense returning from last season’s 7-3 playoff team, the Sharks are set in many positions as they began fall practice on Monday.
But the position that has head coach Frank Tudryn the most concerned is quarterback, where two underclassmen are vying to replace 2008 starter Jeff Schmidt.
Junior Darby McCormick, who played JV last year for the Sharks, is currently the front runner over sophomore Ken Mouton, who started for Golden Gate last season as a freshman.
“The big thing is we don’t have a veteran quarterback. So we’re hoping to solidify that,” said Tudryn, entering his 12th season. “Darby is getting most of the reps. We have a lot of confidence in him.”
The Sharks, who are practicing twice a day, will go to full contact on Thursday.
-- Scott Clair
Entering his first year as a head coach last season, the Indians’ Israel Gallegos was understaffed, short two assistants. Gallegos said that situation put a lot of stress on his staff and their ability to run practices smoothly.
The Indians finished 3-7.
With Monday’s first fall practice, the Indians are now fully staffed, making Gallegos a happy man, especially considering the Indians return just four starters on defense and two on offense.
"Having a full staff will help tremendously," Gallegos said. "We basically have a totally new offense and defense. We have a lot of young kids, especially up front on the offensive line.
"That's the most important group on a team. Usually, your success as a team depends on how (the offensive line) plays. It's a tremendous challenge to put together a new unit. We'll find a good mix. We're looking to putting together a solid group."
-- Scott Clair
Coach Steve Pricer stressed the importance of preparation to his team on opening day of practice for what he calls a "monster schedule. In all my years I don't think we've had a tougher schedule."
That's saying a lot since he has been an assistant or head coach for more than 32 years at Lely.
However, he is excited about having more than 160 kids out for football and many key returnees. Among them is Darion Hall, one of the best runners in the area, if not the state. Hall has verbally committed to the University of Miami.
"Darion is a huge factor and with Frankie Pugh we have two very good running backs," Pricer said. "Matt Costello, a wide receiver, also should give us some scoring punch. Our question will be developing a young offensive line, with only Max Tyler, (tackle or center) and Nick Thorstenson (tight end) returning."
Defensive coordinator Dave Miller said he has a solid defensive corps.
"We have great depth, with seven, eight guys rotating on the defensive line," Miller said. "We have a very good linebacking corps in Jhony Faustin, Donard Noel, Rones Sagesse and Mike Snyder. Everyone has worked hard and feels confident. They think this could be a special year they will remember the rest of their lives."
-- Roger LaLonde
The first day of practice is always exciting. In Bill Kramer’s eye, though, the season doesn’t truly start until the players put on pads.
The FHSAA requires teams practice in just helmets and shorts for the first three days of the season. Teams cannot have full-contact practices until Thursday.
“It’s not football until there’s a lot of contact,” said Kramer, entering his 12th season coaching Naples High. “Until that point, you’re just running around doing stuff.”
The focus of the first three days, Kramer said, is conditioning. The Golden Eagles had 105 varsity and junior varsity players take part in position-specific drills in Monday’s morning practice. The afternoon practice was cut short by lightning.
Naples is replacing 10 of 11 starters on offense this season, and Kramer said none of the replacements are set in stone. The two-time state champion coach said he can’t fill out the depth chart until players don full pads.
“We won’t know anything until we go live,” Kramer said. “Nothing matters until we watch film and see who’s doing what.”
-- Adam Fisher
The Bears finished off their first day of fall football practice with a series of line sprints, after a Monday morning practice from 7-9 a.m. and afternoon from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Plenty of players looked tired, but one led the pack in every sprint. That was senior running back Jimmy Perry, who hopes to replace speedster tailback Torrey Campbell, who transferred to Barron Collier for the 2009 season.
Perry had just eight carries during last year's 1-9 season, but he impressed in Palmetto Ridge's spring game against LaBelle, carrying the ball 18 times for 133 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-7 rout.
"He's looking at (Campbell's transfer) as an opportunity," first-year Bears head coach Dan Newbrough said of Perry. "He has definitely stepped up."
Another key player for the Bears will be junior quarterback Shad Thebaud, who was in a position battle with Mike Thomas but won the spot after an impressive performance in the spring game.
The Bears are rich in experience.
"We have a very good senior class," Newbrough said. "They definitely helped out today."
Newbrough said about 85 varsity and junior-varsity hopefuls turned out for Monday's first practice at Palmetto Ridge, up from 74 who came out in 2008 for then-coach Tim Speakman's final season. Speakman had been head coach at Palmetto Ridge since the school opened in 2005. He will be the offensive coordinator at Golden Gate this season.
Newbrough was an assistant to Speakman from 2005-07 before taking off 2008 to coach his daughter's elementary school golf team.
-- Angela Busch
St. John Neumann
Monday’s opening-day workouts revealed new optimism and a good turnout of 35 Celtics. In fact, there are so many new faces that head coach Steve Howey is busy organizing a new team-building exercise for later in the week.
It will be on Friday that Howey, in his seventh season as Neumann’s head coach, will lead his squad through the usual first-week two-a-days at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The twist is that once the evening session is finished, everyone will stay at the school for an all-night “camp” that Howey hopes will help pull the different personalities and newcomers together. Players will “bunk” in the gym.
“It will be good for us since we have a lot of new people,” Howey said, adding that Beef O’Brady’s and Il Primo Pizza are pitching in to help with the dining detail. “It will be a first for me, too. I haven’t done this at Neumann and I didn’t do it when I was at Gulliver Prep either.”
Yes, there will be practice at 8 a.m. Saturday as well.
Howey thinks the roster will swell to 40 or more by the time all the freshmen are included.
Neumann will be out to improve upon last year’s 3-7 mark and will do so in the new, six-team Class 1B District 6. In addition to the Celtics, the district includes Sarasota Out-of-Door Academy, Moore Haven, Bradenton St. Stephens, Bradenton Christian and Evangelical Christian of Fort Myers.
“I would have to say that at this point, Evangelical is the clear favorite to win the district,” Howey warned. Last year, the Sentinels beat the Celtics 53-20.
-- Tom Rife
South Fort Myers
Surrounded by basketball hoops and volleyball nets wasn't exactly the way many South Fort Myers football players envisioned the start of the 2009 season, but due to thunderstorms in the afternoon on Friday, the team was forced to practice in the school's gym, rather than on the football field.
“It's frustrating but that's just the way it goes sometimes in Florida,” Wolfpack coach Grant Redhead said. “At least it's the preseason and not a game week.”
The team spent most of the afternoon working on special teams but following Monday's practice, Redhead said he expects the offensive line to be one of the team's biggest strengths heading into the season.
“We're always known to have great skill kids and that's going to be a continued strength for us but our biggest surprise is going to be our line,” Redhead said. “They're going to be more physical up front. Last year we had issues with that but this year we're averaging 250, 260 (pounds per player) and they can move.”
Redhead said that a stabilized offense line could be exactly what the team needs to give play-makers like quarterback Dallas Crawford and wide receiver Sammy Watkins opportunities to break big plays.
“Nobody wants to come out and interview an offensive lineman,” Redhead said. “They always want a quarterback or a wide receiver, but they can't do their job if the boys up front aren't any good.”
-- Woody Wommack