Palmetto Ridge High, brand new, can look to recent history and Dunbar High, which fielded a team from scratch in 2000 and went 8-1-1, for hope of a successful first season. But there’s a catch: Dunbar played a junior varsity/freshmen schedule in fielding its first football team since 1968.When the Tigers competed on the varsity level in 2001, they went 6-5. With “the Ridge” facing upperclassmen right away, coach Mark Bliss’ team is likely to be outmanned and overmatched in most contests.”We’re probably going to get baptized, whatever that spells,” said Bliss, who ended a seven-year stint at a Kansas high school with 41 consecutive wins and three state titles. “My biggest thing is they’re asking us to play a varsity schedule when all these kids have never played a varsity down.
“From a realistic standpoint, I know we have a tremendous amount of work to do,” he said. “This will be the biggest challenge in my 16 years of coaching. My biggest thing is we have to remain positive. We’re not going to use youth and inexperience as an excuse. We’re going to do what we can and keep going.”The Bears will have just a handful of juniors and seniors on their roster, all with virtually zero varsity seasoning. Whether it be physical strength and development, or football knowledge and experience, the Ridge figures to be at a disadvantage.
But at least many of the Bears are accustomed to success, having played junior varsity football last year at Gulf Coast, which captured the Collier County championship with an undefeated season.”You hope that would carry over and give us a winning atmosphere and attitude,” Bliss said, “and those other kids will pick it up and keep it going.”Sophomore Donnell McCray initially wanted to remain with Gulf Coast’s emerging program. But the Ridge is his zoned school. His mother and the Bears’ coaches convinced him that the move was a good idea.
“It’s fun to start a new legacy,” said McCray, who plays cornerback and fullback. “We should do all right. I don’t plan on us doing real good, but we should do all right.”As a running back, McCray plays an integral role in the Bears’ single-wing offense. He enjoys practice much more on that side of the ball.
“When we’re playing against the defense, it’s a lot of fun,” McCray said. “Playing defense is a little more tricky.”
Former Kansas high school coach balances optimism, realism with task of developing 1st-year program