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Marco Island Academy football coach Bill Cranston hopes to have a better idea of what his team is all about after Friday’s scrimmage against Moore Haven at Winterberry Park.

The Manta Rays didn’t have spring practice because they didn’t have a coach, with Cranston hired to replace Damon Coiro in late May. Cranston, 65, is a retired 32-year Army veteran with coaching experience in four states as his military career took him around the country. He served as the junior varsity coach at Cape Coral last year and was the freshman coach at Island Coast in 2014. He’s also coached in Alaska, Nebraska and Ohio.

Friday’s contest against Moore Haven will be the first opportunity for Cranston to see his team in action, albeit in a controlled scrimmage. Each team will get the ball for 10 plays, regardless of outcome, and then switch.

“Whether we give up a touchdown every play or stop them every play, we’ll see where we stand,” Cranston said. “Moore Haven is an excellent opponent, a good test for us right away.”

Marco Island Academy will field a small squad depth-wise, with just 20 players out for the team this year. Cranston said he was thankful for a few seniors who came out for football after never playing the sport, because the team was in definite need of bodies.

“With 20, you’re still a little nervous about injuries hitting you,” he admitted. “But it’s a lot better than 16 or 17, which is what we would have had if those guys didn’t come out. Obviously, we’ve put a heavy focus on conditioning, because most of our guys will be playing both ways.”

The Manta Rays will lean on returning starters like quarterback/defensive back Josh Ames, running back/defensive end Seth Hooks, defensive tackle/tight end Jay Cartwright, defensive tackle/center Jackson O’Shea and linebacker/running back Axel Reyes. Marco Island also has a pair of promising sophomores in defensive end/offensive tackle Michael Camacho and linebacker/backup quarterback Peter Morales. Senior Marshall Dafner is one of the players who has never played football, but he’s a three-sport athlete who is expected to contribute in 2018.

“The main thing we want to do here is build a winning culture,” Cranston said. “Success breeds success and these kids really want to win.”

Marco Island Academy faces a bit of an uphill battle because it doesn’t have the feeder system other programs have. But that’s something he hopes will change over time.

“If you start winning, kids will get interested in the program and want to come out,” he said. “But we’ve got to establish that culture here first.”

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