Video: Marco Island at First Baptist Naples Daily News
Marco Island Academy has reason for optimism heading into the 2019 football season.
Steve Kaplan, who took over on an interim basis after the sudden resignation of Bill Cranston right before the beginning of the season last year, is back as the head coach.
Numbers are up a bit, with the Manta Rays now fielding a roster of 20 players after finishing last year's 0-7 season with just 14.
And with the move from an FHSAA district to the independent Sunshine State Athletic Conference, Marco Island stands a much better chance of competing each game.
“Last year was tough on the kids, but you know what, they never quit,” Kaplan said. “They always showed up for practice and genuinely love to play football. It’s the type of group you want to coach. This year, we feel we’ll be in a much better position to compete. It will be nice to play against schools with the same amount of kids as we do. It’s going to even the playing field somewhat.”
Kaplan said as the season wore on and he lost players to injuries last year, he needed to use his timeouts not for strategic reasons but to simply give his kids a break.
“We were down to 14 kids and they were gassed from playing both ways the entire game,” he said. “I’d let the play clock run down to 1 and call timeouts just to let them rest a little.”
Junior Kyler Howard returns to the fold after a year at St. John Neumann. Howard was the Manta Rays’ starting quarterback as a freshman in 2017.
“We’re pretty excited about Kyler at quarterback,” Kaplan said. “We’ve also got a few kids that didn’t play football as juniors out for the team as seniors this year, and all of them look like players to me.”
Manta Rays Facts
Coach: Steve Kaplan
District: FHSAA independent, member of Sunshine State Athletic Conference
Last year: 0-7
Strengths: The return of quarterback Kyler Howard gives Marco Island Academy an experienced signal-caller, and the Manta Rays should be able to throw the ball more than it did a year ago. Key returners – DE/OL Michael Camacho, WR/DB Hunter Delgado, OL/DL Yosiel Lopez, DB Benjamin Macko, RB/CB Mike Metelus, WR/LB Peter Morales, OL/DL Giray Uzen, DB Reef Weber, WR/DB Sean White
Weaknesses: Although the numbers have increased since last year - when Marco Island finished the season with just 14 players – the Manta Rays will still have a smaller roster than most. A few injuries could be problematic. Key losses - QB Josh Ames, TE/DT Jay Cartwright, C Jackson O’Shea, RB/LB Axel Reyes
Schedule: Aug. 23 – at Winter Haven-All Saints’ Academy, 7 p.m; Aug. 30 – at St. Petersburg-Shorecrest Prep, 7 p.m.; Sept. 13 – Gateway Charter, 7 p.m.; Sept. 27 – Keswick Christian, 7 p.m.; Oct. 4 – at Canterbury, 7 p.m.; Oct. 11 – at Southwest Florida Christian, 7 p.m.; Oct. 18 – at First Baptist Academy, 7 p.m.