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Naples High School reached its third state semifinal in four years with a 23-0 win over North Fort Myers in a region final. Adam Regan, AREGAN@NEWS-PRESS.COM

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Monday is the first day of spring football practice for Florida High School Athletic Association programs. With Collier and Lee county schools off Monday for Easter break, some Southwest Florida teams won’t start until Tuesday.

With teams returning to the gridiron to jump-start the 2019 season, let’s highlight what football fans have to look forward to in the fall.

Schools have finalized their regular-season schedules for the most part. A few games are being added here and there, but most teams know their 10 opponents in 2019. The Naples Daily News and The News-Press have put together a list of the most anticipated matchups of the upcoming season.

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However, the list does not include a would-be marquee game that piqued fan interest this winter.

Fort Myers native and Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders hoped to bring Cedar Hill (Texas)-Trinity Christian, where he is the offensive coordinator and his son is the quarterback, to his hometown this fall. Preliminary plans were for Trinity Christian to play Lehigh, coached by James Chaney, who was Sanders’s teammate at North Fort Myers then Florida State.

Trinity Christian is on probation with the athletic association in Texas, though, and the game is in doubt. Lehigh has Trinity Christian scheduled for Sept. 12. Chaney said the Lightning will have to try to find another Week 4 opponent if the issue isn’t decided soon.

But there are plenty of other matchups to look forward to. Here, in chronological order, are some of the top Southwest Florida high school football games in the 2019 season:

 

Bonita Springs at East Lee, Aug. 23 (Week 1)

It’s the first varsity game for Southwest Florida’s newest varsity team. After starting with a freshman team two years ago, before Lee County’s newest high school was officially opened, the Bull Sharks played junior varsity last season. This year Bonita Springs is going full varsity. The Sharks are in Class 3A-Region 3 and eligible for the FHSAA playoffs.

 

Naples at Sarasota-Riverview, Aug. 23 (Week 1)

The Golden Eagles are stepping out of their comfort zone. Bill Kramer, entering his 22nd year as Naples’ head coach, would play every game at home if he could. Including the playoffs. The Eagles had 11 home games last year – more than most teams played in the entire season. When they do leave home, the Eagles don’t travel too far. Naples has played only one regular-season game outside of Collier County in the past three seasons, and that was at South Fort Myers. The last time Naples left Southwest Florida for a regular-season game was 2014.

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Lehigh at Miami-Washington, Aug. 23 (Week 1)

They might not get to play Deion’s team, but the Lightning still play a rigorous schedule. Washington has gone 10-12 the past two seasons, but the Tornadoes aren’t too far removed from their string of four straight state championships from 2012-15. Washington went 56-2 from 2011-14, including 42 straight victories. And the game will be played at Miami’s always-intimidating Traz Powell Stadium.

More: Deion Sanders relishes chance to return home, attack issues facing Fort Myers

More: Lehigh 4-star DE Quashon Fuller stays true to Florida State, turns down Alabama

 

Barron Collier at Key West, Sept. 6 (Week 3)

Cougars coach Mark Jackson likes to give his players life experiences. He also likes to make them uncomfortable to prepare them for the postseason. A five-hour bus ride to Key West will accomplish both. The past two seasons Barron Collier has started the year playing out-of-state opponents at a high school football showcase in Orlando. For this season’s trip, the Cougars will stay overnight in the Keys the night before and drive home after the game.

 

North Fort Myers at Fort Myers, Sept. 13 (Week 4)

These teams have been two of the best in Lee County recently, and they’ve had some hard-fought battles on the field. The highlight came in the 2017 regional semifinals when Fort Myers stunned undefeated North Fort Myers with a last-second, 7-6 victory. Fort Myers won 28-20 in last year’s regular season, but North advanced to the regional finals.

 

Bishop Verot at St. John Neumann, Sept. 13 (Week 4)

This is the first time the largest Catholic schools in their respective counties – Bishop Verot in Lee, Neumann in Collier – have played in 10 years. The game comes after last season in which Verot went 9-3 and won a playoff game, while Neumann went 10-2 and won the first regional game in program history. Although the Vikings (Class 3A) are just one classification larger than the Celtics (2A), Verot had 703 students last year compared to 268 students at Neumann.

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Champagnat defeats St. John Neumann 21-10. Coach Jones gives his thoughts on the game. James Kellerman, james.kellerman@naplesnews.com; 239-272-2822

 

Lely at Golden Gate, Sept. 13 (Week 4)

Both schools have similar demographics, drawing students from the same areas in and around East Naples. Now they have something else in common – Lely and Golden Gate are the only teams in Collier County with new head coaches this season. J.J. Everage, who previously worked at Lehigh after two decades in Kentucky, takes over at Lely. Nick Bigica, who’s been an assistant in Collier County for 15 years, takes over Golden Gate. The teams also are in the same district for the first time in five years.

More: J.J. Everage brings experience to Lely head coaching job

More: Golden Gate hires Nick Bigica as new head football coach

 

First Baptist Academy at Community School, Sept. 20 (Week 5)

It’s the return of the closest rivalry in the area, maybe the state – geographically speaking. The Lions’ and Seahawks’ football fields sit just half a mile apart in North Naples. However, the teams haven’t faced each other since 2016 and have played twice in the past seven years. First Baptist has won 37 games the past five seasons, including last year’s playoff berth, while Community School has won 38 games in that span.

 

Naples at Immokalee, Oct. 25 (Week 10)

The annual matchup between these two teams, the only programs in Southwest Florida to have won state championships, has always been a heated rivalry. Now, for the first time in more than a decade, it will be a district game as well. Naples and Immokalee are in the same district for the first time since 2007. Week 10 is the final week of district play, so this game could decide a district championship and automatic playoff berth.

 

Fort Lauderdale-University School at Immokalee, Nov. 1 (Week 11)

A week after its slugfest with Naples, Immokalee will close out the season by hosting a team that has gone 21-4 the past two seasons and won two regional titles in 4A. If the Indians don’t win a district title, this game could go a long way toward securing a wild-card berth into the playoffs. The FHSAA’s new playoff system awards at-large berths based on a formula using opponents’ records. The Indians lost 42-12 at University School last season.

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Immokalee can't shake slow start in 31-3 loss to Tampa-Jesuit Andrew Sodergren, andy.sodergren@naplesnews.com, 239-263-4731

 

Riverdale at Fort Myers, Nov. 1 (Week 11)

These teams, who both made the playoffs last season, are resuming a rivalry that was dormant for five years. The Raiders and Green Wave played six straight times from 2009-14 but haven’t played since. After going 10-0 in last year’s regular season but losing 45-8 at home in the first round of the playoffs, Riverdale has added Fort Myers and Charlotte to its 2019 schedule.

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Bishop Verot at North Fort Myers, Nov. 1 (Week 11)

After last year’s 9-3 record and second-round playoff appearance, Bishop Verot is stepping up to take on one of the top public school programs in Lee County. North Fort Myers went to the 6A regional finals last year. With an enrollment of 1,871 students, North is more than double the size of Verot (703 students). While the Vikings close the year against the Red Knights, they open the season against Collier County public school program Barron Collier.

 

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