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As the Marco Island Academy football team enters its second season under coach Damon Coiro, the Manta Rays are looking to build off the momentum experienced late last season.

Despite being competitive for many of their early-season games, the Manta Rays lost the first seven under their new coach before picking up victories in the final two games of the season.

“Those two wins were huge for us, and that enthusiasm carried into the offseason and carried into our other sports as well,” said Coiro, who is also the school’s athletic director. “Our kids want to see the change, and they want to be the change. They understand the hard work it’s going to take to make that happen.

“We may have been close in a few of those games we lost last year, but we weren’t doing everything the right way. Those two wins gave the kids something tangible, that if they continued working hard on the field and in the classroom, good things could happen.”

The Manta Rays began practice Monday morning with 38 players, up ‘about 10’ from this time last year, according to second-year coach Damon Coiro.

“For a school this size, I’ve always said 40 would be a great number to have, and we’re pretty close to that,” he said. “We weren’t able to go outside today, but we still got 2 ½ hours of solid work in. We watched some film, reviewed some things on the board and just took care of business.”

The Manta Rays will spend the next few weeks ironing out a few details – one of the biggest to be determined is who will line up under center when the season begins. Marco Island has three candidates it’s considering – senior Brenden Howard, sophomore Dominic Moller and freshman Kyler Howard, Brenden’s brother.

“All three are capable of doing the job,” Coiro said. “It may come down to if we need them at other positions. Brenden has been a very good tight end for us, for example. In the next few weeks, we’ll work all that out.”

Coiro said he’s pleased with the progress his team has shown from the end of last season to now, and is looking forward to seeing what the season has in store. Marco Island hosts Boca Raton-St. Andrew’s in a preseason game Friday, Aug. 18. The regular season kicks off Friday, Aug. 25, with the Manta Rays traveling to Community School of Naples.

“Right now, we’re further ahead than we were at this point last year,” he said. “There’s a standard that’s been developed, and the kids are holding themselves accountable to that standard. We’ve got a staple of leaders that are a lot closer to understanding the system, understanding what I expect. This group of kids is hungry. They really want to improve, and they work hard. They continue to bust their butts every day, and they’ll see results if they keep doing that.”

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