Proper preparation is paramount to success in football.
The bigger the game, the bigger the need to account for as many variables as possible.
For the Immokalee High School football team, it doesn’t get any bigger than Friday’s Class 5A state championship tussle with Tallahassee Godby at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl.
The Indians (11-3) are seeking the second football title in their program’s history and the fourth for Collier County (Immokalee won in 2004, Naples in 2001 and 2007).
The architects of those title-winning teams, Immokalee’s John Weber and Naples’ Bill Kramer, agree the best strategy for success is keeping a team’s established routine as close to normal as possible.
Unfortunately, the magnitude of the game makes it anything but routine.
“You try to treat it like another game but (the players) know it isn’t,” said Weber, whose 2004 team upset unbeaten Madison County 17-15 to win the Class 2A title. “They all know it’s the state championship game.
“You don’t want to overwhelm them, but at the same time, you want them to understand it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
To that end, Kramer said it’s important for players to enjoy the moment.
“One thing we preach all the time is mental toughness is always enhanced by having an attitude of gratitude,” said Kramer, who has an .802 winning percentage in his 15 seasons at Naples. “You need to be grateful you’re having that experience. It really helps to take the pressure off.”
With a 1:07 p.m. start, Immokalee coach Jerrod Ackley and his team will be heading to Orlando this morning and will hold its walk-through at its regular practice time.
“We’re trying to keep it consistent,” Ackley said. “Thursday will be a little different for us, traveling the day before the game instead of the day of the game.
“And for a lot of our guys, it will be the first time they’ve stayed at a hotel.”
Once that practice ends, however, Weber and Kramer said it’s important to keep the players busy.
“You just don’t want them to have too much free time around the hotel,” said Weber, who spoke to Ackley earlier this week about his 2004 experience. “I suggested he take them to a movie or something. There’s a lot of time to kill in the evening and I always thought the more time they have on their own, the more trouble they can get into.”
Indians senior linebacker Joslin Alberique said that won’t be a problem.
“There’s going to be pools, people there and probably girls — a lot of distractions,” he said. “I think we will handle it well as long as we know our limit and not go overboard and everybody stays under control.”
Another wrinkle is the early afternoon start time.
“That’s a big difference; it’s going to be the hottest part of the day,” Immokalee senior defensive tackle Deadrin Senat said. “We’re just going to have to play through it and play ball.
“Both teams are experienced playing at night instead of in the day. We’re just going to have to see who overcomes it.
“I think it should be a great game.”