Wows, and a feeling of pride, were emotions obvious on Monday when the first Marco Island Academy football team tried on their uniforms.
Brand new Riddell Revo Speed helmets, a top-rated concussion helmet, were just part of quality football gear for a team that will make history when it plays at Oasis High School in Fort Myers on Aug. 31. It will have a preseason matchup at Saint Stephens in Bradenton on Aug. 24.
Through voluntary workouts 25 to 30 participants, some with and without experience, have worked to represent the school well. They know they will take their lumps. but feel strongly that it is the beginning of building a team that will have success.
Head coach Andy Delgado and his assistants, Chris Burt and Eddie Kirst feel the same about their Manta Rays.
"We want to be a team of quality, while showing respect for each other and the community," Delgado said. He also stressed the importance of academics.
"Like Roger (Raymond) practices, academics come before athletics," Delgado said. "We feel we are part of raising young men."
Raymond is the athletic director for the Academy and Marco Island Charter Middle School.
Fielding a team is a victory to Delgado, who hopes to have 30 on the squad for the season.
"These kids are part of forming and building a tradition," he said. "In three to four years our goal is to be respected and be a force in county football at a small school level."
The team will play 1A District schools, playing six high school varsity teams and four JV teams. By playing six varsity teams the Manta Rays can qualify to be in a district next season.
Sophomore Peter Servente has been part of the entire sports program's growth for the boys. He has been a team leader in cross country, basketball and baseball. He was named the top male athlete at the end of the school's first year in May.
"It means a lot to represent your school," Servente said. "You have more opportunities to compete right away than at a larger school."
A clear example is that Servente was donning a varsity uniform, but hasn't played football since sixth grade.
Sophomore Reese Carlisle, who played football in middle school in Fort Myers, will be the team's first quarterback. He played basketball and baseball for the Academy last school year.
Delgado says Carlisle has great potential, with a strong arm and speed.
Carlisle is psyched.
"I've never had brand new equipment," he said. "It's a good feeling, playing on the first team. I know there will be a lot of pressure on me and I have to do my best in leading the team."
Sophomore Thomas Nugent played under Delgado and Burt on the Academy's first baseball team.
"I've known Andy and Chris from baseball and they work hard," Nugent said. "I expect it will the same as baseball, we'll start off tough and get better with time. I'm really excited, we've been working hard for it."
Freshman Jonatan Kriqi will be a key on defense and can be a running force on offense. He was a standout for the Charter School team that went 7-1 its first season last fall.
He chose the Academy to get more exposure for a college scholarship.
"I wanted to play a lot and get seen," Kriqi said. "I'm not scared to hit someone. I get straight A's in school and I want to play in college."
Delgado will oversee the offense, Burt the defense and Kirst the special teams.
"Most likely we'll have six players going both ways, but that's how it is in a small school," Delgado said. "We have a chance to win some games."
More photos at marconews.com.