3 Spring football questions for MIA, Lely
Spring football practices are in high gear as Southwest Florida programs use the 20-days the FHSAA allows teams to get on the field to improve before the fall.
Every team has questions and this is the time coaches try to find some answers.
We quizzed area coaches about what they are trying to learn about their teams this spring.
Here are three big questions that Marco Island and Lely and Golden Gate are looking for answers too.
With less than five seniors on the roster, and only three practicing this spring, Manta Rays head coach Lew Montgomery is looking to build a positive experience for his young squad.
“If the kids feel like we competed this year and are hungry to come back, I think that’d be a successful year,” said Montgomery. “The way last year ended just left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.”
Marco Island finished the 21-22 season 0-7. The last two weeks of their year consisted of a bye week and a canceled game.
With some important positions still unfilled, Montgomery will rely on the few seniors he does have to help push key young players into important roles.
The Manta Rays started spring practice a few weeks later than most schools. Currently, they are practicing with 15 players. One important name missing is last year’s starting quarterback Jack Berry.
There is a battle for the position between sophomore Gage Rice and junior Ryan Sweeney, but neither is the senior dual-sport athlete Montgomery is used to. Berry had a successful baseball season for Marco Island, and it is unclear if he will return for the fall football season.
“The attributes it takes to be a quarterback are more than just throwing,” Montgomery said. “Whoever fits that mold once we get around to August is who we’ll go with. I’m not a big fan of rotating quarterbacks.”
Montgomery said if they had a spring game next week, he’d probably start Rice.
Other than who’s under center, the Manta Rays still need to figure out who can play on both sides of the ball with a limited roster. Montgomery knows his key seniors Daniel Donaldson and Troy Morales will have important roles, and sophomore guard Jesse Cox has garnered some attention after an offseason of improvement, but this spring will be important in determining who else has the lungs, legs, and smarts he is looking for.
What to expect from Morales?
Running back Troy Morales suffered an ankle injury early last season that seemed to nag him throughout the year. Montgomery believes he’s fully recovered now, so expect him to get carries early and often. Especially with the other running back, Grayson Jones, currently battling an injury.
“He’s just a whole new player,” Montgomery said about Morales. “Today he was running the ball and it seemed like he was only three feet off the ground, it was beautiful.”
Montgomery is expecting tenacity and leadership from Morales. Not just at running back, but in his linebacker spot as well. He believes he has the legs and smarts to do it. Morales is one of the few his coaching staff has already planned on using consistently on both sides of the ball.
“We just started tackling today and we were hearing some pads crack,” Montgomery said. “It was definitely him cracking pads.”
How can Marco Island build the program?
Relying on a young squad can provide countless speedbumps on the road to building up a program. With former Golden Gate assistant Frank Tedesco working with defensive backs and Steve Conners working with quarterbacks, Montgomery hopes the skill positions see a long-term improvement.
“I really think they’ve been a great addition,” Montgomery said. “They coach the same way we do and with the same expectations.”
Montgomery also thinks having a successful season will help bring in more players.
“The kids out there that have had a positive experience are spreading the word,” he said. “They’re bringing in kids who are maybe on the fence or are burned out from all the other sports they play.”
Montgomery said a successful season is one where Marco Island is represented well, and the players get something out of it.
“I think numbers are secondary to the point of the program,” Montgomery said. “The point of the program is going to be building and getting better every day. I need them to leave the year feeling like they got better.” — Nick Wilson
The Trojans went 4-6 and made the playoffs last year, losing to perennial power Champagnat Catholic in the first round.
Lely lost quarterback Brian Bachmann to Golden Gate but returns leading rusher Guerschom Guerrier, one of the top running backs in Southwest Florida.
"Everybody knows about Guerschom Guerrier but we just can't rely on only him," Lely fourth-year coach J.J. Everage said.
Who else is there offensively?
Everage says pieces are there, it's just figuring out how to assemble them.
"The main thing is find the right fit for players at positions, so it's evaluating payers to replace those players we lost last year," he said.
Colin Raymond should step in for Bachmann as the new quarterback, with Jakeem Tanelus backing him up.
"We have to establish a passing game to keep teams honest," Everage said. "Colin's been with us since he was a freshman. He's very capable, very intelligent. He may not have the strongest arm or the fastest legs, but he understands what we're trying to do offensively."
Tanelus also plays slot receiver and is a threat running the ball.
Who can fill the openings on defense?
Everage will use the spring game against Lehigh to help figure that out, and also get some depth since a pair of starters are out this spring recovering from injuries.
"We're trying to build a linebacking corps, and kind of find some dudes up front that can play," Everage said. "Last year we were just so thin at linebacker and so we're kind of in the offseason plugging kids in that can play the spot and trying to build depth at every position. That's one big goal of ours."
Guerrier also will see time at linebacker, and Everage is optimistic about players coming up.
"Last year's JV players will have to step up into these roles," said Everage, who added he has some new players out. "We've got some new guys that came out that we're anxious to see in their first varsity football experience what we've got."
How hard is the schedule?
Well, if last year is any indication, that means it will be a tough one.
And Everage has no problem with that.
The Trojans will have Monsignor Pace and Bradenton Southeast on the schedule this fall, in addition to Collier County programs.
"That's the level I want to get this program to," he said. "It also gives exposure to our players. That's why we play Lehigh (in the spring). Maybe just maybe they see one of my kids and like what they see and that kid gets recruited.
"I want to play tough competition. I want it to be like a college atmosphere."