Indians football starts fresh
Immokalee kicked off its spring football practice
IMMOKALEE — The Rich Dombroski era at Immokalee High School didn’t start with Xs and Os, but rather numbers.
As soon as Immokalee hired Dombroski to be the next head football coach of the Indians, he went straight to the pulse of most teenage boys: the cellphone.
“That was the first key when I got here, ‘Here’s my cellphone number, guys. Text me. Tell me your name and what position you want to play, and we’ll get the ball rolling that way,’” said Dombroski, 43, who was hired Feb. 26 to replace Jerrod Ackley.
After a 45-minute weather delay kept everyone inside a field house, Immokalee’s first day of spring practice started Wednesday with close to 100 players in helmets and shorts at Gary Bates Stadium.
Doling out his cellphone number might seem like an insignificant move, but it is just one way Dombroski is trying to form a bond with his new players.
“The more you can relate to your kids and you can get them to see that you truly care for them, not only athletically, but academically and in their personal lives, the harder they’re going to play for you and the more respect they’re going to have for you,” he said.
After spending the past five seasons as Estero High’s head coach, it wasn’t difficult to see that Dombroski has settled into his new environment. He was decked out in all red.
“It’s been a good adjustment,” he said. “The kids have been very accepting, which is half the battle, getting them to buy in.”
So far, the former offensive lineman for Fort Lauderdale-St. Thomas Aquinas and the University of Georgia has received positive reviews.
“He actually played college football, so he knows the game better than (Ackley),” said junior running back D’Ernest Johnson. “The other coach is pretty good — I’m not going to doubt him, he took us to states last year — but this coach knows a lot about the game of football.”
The Rich Dombroski file
High School: St. Thomas Aquanis (Fort Lauderdale)
College: Georgia (offensive tackle)
Coaching experience: Estero High 2007-12 (18-33)
Note: He inherited an Estero team that with a 12-game losing streak and it reached 23 until a win against Lemon Bay in 2009. In 2012, he guided Estero to 8-3 record and its first playoff appearance in 11 years. The Wildcats lost at Immokalee 35-13 in the first round.
“Dombroski is a real good man. He’s straightforward,” said junior outside linebacker/safety Jimmy Bayes. “He’s very relaxed, but at the same time, he wants you to do everything his way. He comes from two good programs. He knows exactly what he’s talking about. SEC football and one of the best high schools in Florida. He came from good schools and I’m very blessed for him to be leading us.”
Bayes, who has verbally committed to South Florida and has offers from several other schools, including Arkansas, Miami, Missouri, Rutgers and West Virginia, said one difference compared to the previous regime is higher intensity in the weight room under Dombroski, including individual challenges every Thursday.
“Competition creates greatness,” Bayes said. “As we compete against each other, we’re getting stronger and having fun at the same time. We’re really working hard, but not even knowing it because we’re having fun.”
Having resurrected struggling programs in his previous stops — Estero and Currituck County, N.C. — Dombroski faces a far different scenario in Immokalee where wins are usually plentiful and expectations lofty, especially on the heels of an 11-4 season last fall which culminated with the Indians losing a 21-20 heartbreaker to Tallahassee-Godby in the 5A state title game.
College recruiting chatter
“We have the size, the athleticism and the personnel to win it all,” Bayes said. “It would be very disappointing not to get a state championship win this year.”
Although several key seniors from last season’s team are gone — five signed with Division I schools — no significant changes are expected in the offensive approach under Dombroski.
“What Immokalee has done over the last few years with the spread offense, I see no reason to change,” he said.
Defense is where Indians fans might notice a difference.
“Defensively, philosophically I’m a 3-4 guy, and we’re going to run an odd-front defense here,” said Dombroski, who has brought former Estero assistant coach Andrew London to Immokalee. “We’re going to switch to the 3-4 defense. That will be the biggest learning curve this spring, is getting these kids out of the mindset of a 4-3 defense into a 3-4.”
Immokalee will host a jamboree with Cape Coral and East Lee County on May 17. The Indians open the regular season at home against Maryland’s Our Lady of Good Counsel on Aug. 30. Regardless of what happens in the first six weeks of the season, Week 7 is bound to be an interesting night. That’s when Dombroski will face Naples for the first time since his Estero team was run over by the Golden Eagles, 91-0, in just the sixth game of his first year with the Wildcats.
“I’ll be on an even field with Bill Kramer for the first time in five years,” Dombroski said. “We are as athletic as Naples is, there’s no doubt in my mind. It may happen again. Who knows? They beat us last year by 30 points or whatever it was. That could happen again this year, but I have faith in my assistants and I have faith in what we we’re starting to do with the kids today and the athletes that we have.”
Even though the Immokalee-Naples game is always circled on calendars as one of the premier games in Southwest Florida, Dombroski said his biggest concerns are winning district games against Golden Gate and Lely in the tiny, three-team 5A-District 15. Getting past those teams will be necessary if Immokalee is going to return to Orlando.
“They’re hungry after last year,” Dombroski said about his players. “A lot of those juniors have said to me that was the worst day of their lives, losing by a point in the state championship game. They don’t want to let that happen again. We’re on a mission right now to get back to Orlando, and today is day one of that trek.”