Pete Fominaya knows it’s going to take time to rebuild at Gulf Coast High School.
Changing the culture of a program accustomed to losing is never easy. But the second-year Sharks coach said the team is headed in the right direction.
As spring football practices have ramped up, Fominaya is working on establishing an identity for Gulf Coast.
“When I coached at Naples High, the one thing you always knew about Gulf Coast is they’d play you hard,” said Fominaya, a former Golden Eagles assistant. “For four quarters, you were going to be in a fight. I want our identity to return to that. Gulf Coast kids were always tough, hard-nosed kids and that’s what we’re trying to get back to. We want great tacklers, great blockers and a team that’s going to try to impose its will on the opponent.”
Fominaya knows the best way to build a program is from the ground up. While the varsity squad went 2-8 last season, the ninth-grade Sharks showed positive signs.
The freshman team, led by quarterback Will Sheriffs, reeled off six consecutive victories to finish the season.
When Fominaya took over at Gulf Coast, the freshman team was coming off a one-win season, the JV team had won no games and the varsity had won two.
“Kids were getting used to losing, and the change has to come from within,” he said. “Half the part of winning is believing you can win and we’re starting to see a lot of positive signs from our athletic department. Our freshman team had the best year in school history last year. Our JV basketball team went undefeated. The JV and freshman baseball teams went undefeated, so we feel very good about the future.”
One of the causes for optimism is Sheriffs, who appears ready to take over as the varsity starting quarterback.
“He’s big and strong and does a good job of running our offense,” Fominaya said. “He’s already a great leader. The kids really believe in him. He’s smart and confident, which is needed at that position.”
The Sharks run a prostyle offense, but are more of a run-oriented team with two backs and option looks. Fominaya has taken elements of offenses from Naples and Lehigh, where he served as head coach, to fit Sherrifs’ skill set.
“I love to run the ball but I’m developing my passing,” Sheriffs said. “I know throwing the ball is something I have to work on over the next three years. We’ve got a young group here, but we’re getting pretty close as a family. I’ve been trying to take on a leadership role and it’s going good so far.”
Gulf Coast’s strength this season could be its front seven on defense, with six starters returning. Defensive end Noah Cuccuini and linebackers Mike Scott, John Agudelo and Johnny Griffith lead the experienced unit.
Fominaya likes having players concentrating on one side of the ball.
“Our biggest thing with not playing kids both ways is we feel we can take a kid with lesser ability and coach them up at that one position and he’ll be better rested than a kid that has to play two positions that may have more talent,” he said. “We play in the heat year round and not only that, we see some of the best athletes in the country. You can’t play against those kinds of kids fatigued. When you get fatigued, you lose your mental toughness and we want to be a team that is mentally tough.”
The Sharks will need that toughness playing in District 6A-13 this season with Naples, Barron Collier, Palmetto Ridge and Estero. Gulf Coast played in a district with Charlotte, Port Charlotte and Lemon Bay last year.
Fominaya said the district is a great fit for the Sharks.
“Not only is it cost effective but the district games are really amplified because they are also local rivalry games,” Fominaya said. “We’re now in one of the best districts in the area with quality coaches all around. That’s only going to make us better.”
Fominaya admitted his squad might not have the same talent level as other teams, but that’s fine with him as long as his team plays with intensity every snap.
“To me, it comes down to attitude and effort, those are the only two things a man can control,” he said. “He can’t control how tall he is, how fast he is or what his background is. All he can really control is his attitude and effort. You have to come out here every day with the attitude that you’re going to be a better player today than you were yesterday.”
Fominaya said this is all he asks of his players.
“That’s really how you change the culture of a program, by having a great attitude and putting forth that quality effort every time you take the field,” he said.