The growing pains might be a touch less painful this season for North Port.Entering its fourth year of existence, the Bobcats will be without quarterback Lawrence Luncan and receivers Jimmy Dismukes and Klarel Avin, all starting seniors from a 2-8 team a year ago.But a key shortcoming of the program thus far — size and experience, especially on the defensive front — will be improved, even if only due to the natural order of things.
“All our kids are a year older … a year stronger and a year bigger,” said coach Mike Steele, who acknowledged that his team nevertheless remains undersized. “We’ll probably be the smallest team that you’ll see all year, even smaller than most of the private schools. But that’s one of the things we’re gaining on.”A legitimate threat on offense but unable to stop most teams on the ground a year ago, North Port started the season 2-4 but lost its last four games by a combined 18 points, with opponents running out the clock late in games.
“I think we’ll be more balanced as far as where we are offensively and defensively,” Steele said. “People won’t be able to play keep-away from us this year.”A new quarterback, 5-foot-11 junior Justin Miller, replaces Luncan, but returning running backs Westley Nicol, a senior, and Ricky Sylvester, a junior, combined for 1,240 yards on 184 carries last year, good for 6.7 yards per run.North Port also will have its first group of seniors who entered the program as ninth-graders — even if they’re not the biggest players around.
“Every year, we get more kids that have made it through the program, more kids that are committed to spending the time to get a project like this done,” Steele said. “That’s one of the things that we’re working on is trying to build tradition.”