Prep football: Indians hope to be remembered for resiliency, not struggles

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Football preview: 5A state championship

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ORLANDO — The 2012 Immokalee football team set its bar high this season. The Indians were on a mission to take their place in Immokalee lore as one of the greatest teams in the program's storied history.

The Indians missed their chance at joining the 2004 team as state champions. Even without a title, this year's squad will go down as one of the most talented, memorable and controversial squads to take the field at Immokalee High School.

"We'll be remembered as the team that went to state despite a lot of adversity," senior linebacker Joslin Alberique said. "We overcame the adversity. Through all that we made it to the big stage."

With a handful of the nation's top recruits, Immokalee might have been more skilled than ever this season. With a series of off-field incidents, internal issues and suspensions, the 2012 Indians drew attention all year long.

What will make them stand out the most in years to come is the title they almost won.

The Indians certainly have the talent to be remembers as one of the best Immokalee teams. Nine players from Friday's game have Division I scholarship offers, while a handful of others could play college football.

Years down the road, conversations will center on a botched extra point that would have sent Friday's Class 5A championship game into overtime. The failed kick resulted in Immokalee's 21-20 loss to Tallahassee-Godby.

However, the Indians hope they are remembered more for the dramatic comeback that nearly erased a two-touchdown deficit late in the fourth quarter.

"All year we bounced back," third-year head coach Jerrod Ackley said. "That's what we did tonight. We played to the very end. We were down 14 points with six minutes left, and we still had a chance to tie it up."

The game's final five minutes typified Immokalee's season — facing adversity and all but counted out, the Indians responded with their best effort.

Immokalee was on its own 12 yard line with less than a minute to play before quarterback Tshumbi Johnson's 2-yard touchdown pass to Xavier Richardson with no time left. The touchdown set the Indians up to force overtime before the botched extra point.

"We put all the work we did in the offseason and throughout this year into that drive," said junior running back D'Ernest Johnson, who had two catches for 42 yards on the final drive. "I think our team will be remembered. We were one of the best."

The Indians were supposed to have an easy path to the state finals, but the season was marred by an ugly scuffle early in the year. Following a loss at Naples, a group of rowdy fans began antagonizing the Indians coaching staff. That led to a coach and two players going into the stands, but there was no physical confrontation.

The incident looked worse than it was, but the investigation that followed by the Collier County School District shined a bad light on Immokalee. Aside from the events at Naples, several players were disciplined this season for clashes with coaches, and it was a struggle at times for the Indians to bring together the egos of all their talented recruits.

"They'll be remembered for their resiliency. They're pretty damn resilient," wide receivers coach Rodelin Anthony said. "Through injuries guys stepped up. Even when coaches had issues — coaches fighting with players and players fighting with coaches — they bounced back. Even (in the championship game) when we were down, guys kept fighting."

Anthony played on the team this year's Indians were trying to replace as Immokalee's best. The assistant coach starred as a senior receiver and team captain on the 2004 team that won the Class 2A state championship.

Though the year started rough, Anthony said he began to see the players coming together late in the season and resemble his own title-winning group.

"We turned it up a notch in the playoffs," Anthony said. "All the sudden they were accepting what they were being coached to do. … With all the talent and the amount of off-field issues surrounding it, this team will be remembered."

Through all the hard times, including a 5-3 record late in the year, Immokalee still did what it set out to — get to the championship game. The Indians didn't achieve their ultimate goal, but they stamped their legacy as a team not to be forgotten.

"Coming in there was a lot of expectations," said defensive coordinator Israel Gallegos, an Immokalee graduate and Indians assistant coach since 1993. "With all the talented players we have, we were expected to get here. We got here. We just came up 1-point short.

"These guys fought. I hope they're remembered for fighting to the end."

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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