The unknown is great this season at Lemon Bay.So are the expectations.That’s the equation that 10th-year coach Mike Messina and a dedicated group of players has built, thanks to six playoff appearances the past eight years and the widely recognized greatest season in school history, last year’s 9-3 campaign that ended with a narrow loss in the second round of the playoffs.
“Anything short of getting in the playoffs is going to be a disappointment, no matter whether anyone calls it a rebuilding year,” Messina said.”That’s what our kids expect, and that’s what I expect. It’s going to take a huge effort on our part to accomplish our goals.”
The problem for the Manta Rays will be what Messina sees as improved squads at all four district opponents (Riverdale, North Port, DeSoto and Sebring) and a massive loss of their own senior talent.Last year’s team, which set a school record for wins, started 16 of the 18 seniors on the squad — with many possessing atypical speed for Lemon Bay.”It was a luxury,” Messina said.
“This year, we have to go back to old school. We’ve got a good line and a great fullback. We’re going to be as smash-mouth a team as we’ve ever been.”That fullback, senior Chris Scott, led Lemon Bay with 889 yards on 179 carries a year ago. The 6-foot, 200-pounder is prepared for a greater workload this season on an offense that graduated its four leading receivers from a year ago and is wavering between three quarterbacks so far this year.
“I think I’m well-conditioned,” Scott said.That may be most critical to negating Lemon Bay’s inexperience. The 36-player squad showed up from a dedicated summer of voluntary and involuntary workouts in peak form, only to lose eight days of conditioning because of Hurricane Charley.”We had the best camp ever,” said senior captain and defensive tackle Dan Stuckey. “We were rocking. We had the little lag with the hurricane, but we’re definitely getting back to where we were.”