Lely football team has high hopes for 2018 season

Lely quarterback Jonis Dieudonne throws the ball under pressure during a game against Golden Gate last season.

Lely football coach Fritz Jacques could barely contain his optimism when speaking about the upcoming football season for his Trojans.

Entering his second season as the team’s head coach, Jacques knows his squad is still relatively young. However, many of his juniors started as sophomores last year, which will be a big help as the Trojans look to compete in a tough Class 5A-District 12 with perennial powers like Dunbar and Immokalee.

“That’s the best part of this job, being a competitor and seeing how you stack up against a Dunbar, a team that’s got four, five, six, eight, however many it is Division I guys,” Jacques said. “Preparing for a group that’s athletically better than you. But are they doing their schemes right? Are we making our tackles or blocks? You need to have 11 people to have the same outlook if you hope to get the job done, and we’re very confident in ourselves. We’re playing faster than we were last year, and that’s what you need to go up against teams like Dunbar, Immokalee and Naples.”

The Trojans went 2-7 last year, splitting their final four games after an 0-5 start. They played most of the season without standout running back Henderson Francois, who returned for the last three games and ran for 426 yards and four touchdowns.

Quarterback Jonis Dieudonne took his lumps as a sophomore, but got better as the season went along. This year, Jacques says his quarterback looks much more mature and confident.

“We’re not holding anything back now,” Jacques said of his talented quarterback. “We’re putting more on his plate, speeding things up more. He’s a real student of the game, and he was voted most improved player by his teammates last year. He’s a great kid and a born leader.”

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Jacques has always been close to his quarterback's family. Dieudonne's uncle, former Lely star player and coach, Culmer St. Jean, grew up and played on the same football team as Jacques. Dieudonne has been given St. Jean’s old number 15, also worn by cousin and former NFL player Steven Octavien.

“He’s part of that tradition, part of that family line at Lely,” Jacques said. “I think that’s why the kids relate to me a little more. I’m part of that tradition. I’ve been through what they’re going through.”

Jacques says he’s always been a big part of the Lely community, but he’s constantly trying to do more in the community. He attends church on Sundays and meets with the local pastors. When he has a team event, he speaks in both English and Creole to pay homage to several of the players’ (and his own) Haitian roots.

“I understand these kids, I understand the culture with the Haitian, Creole kids,” he said. “On Sundays, they go to church and their mom doesn’t want them to stay out late at night. That’s why we don’t ever do midnight practices here. I love this area and I’m trying to build a great relationship with the families, because I think that’s how you get the best out of the kids.”

Lely plays its preseason game Friday against Barron Collier, then travels to Gulf Coast for the season opener Friday, Aug. 24.