With the departures of quarterback Kurt Benkert (East Carolina), running back Devon Calhoun and athlete T.J. Johnson (Arizona), Island Coast lost 86 percent of its total offensive yardage from last season.
But coach Joe Bowen had the difficult task of replacing offensive firepower before. He lost Army All-American tailback Mario Pender (Florida State) and QB Mike Dumas (South Alabama) two years ago.
“You can’t really replace what we lost,” Bowen said. “All you can do is build on the strengths you have here and go from there. You have to do what you have to do and play with what you have.”
Island Coast will see what their offense has to offer in Friday’s spring classic at 7:30 p.m. at home against Fort Myers.
Junior Quinn Borque will be under center and is taking the first leadership role of his young career. He completed 4-of-5 passes for 62 yards last season. He did start the spring game against East Lee last year, an Island Coast win.
“It’s been a lot of preparation,” Borque said of being the starting quarterback. “I’m very confident, we have a good team this year. A lot of young kids, but I think we’ve got the maturity to make a very good impact on this school.”
The ball-carrying duties will be handled by committee unless one of the eight running backs emerges as a frontrunner. Junior wideout James Washington caught 20 passes, second highest on the team last season, and will play a bigger role in the offense this season.
The Gators return eight defensive starters from last season’s 8-3 squad that lost in the Class 5A regional quarterfinals to Naples, including their entire defensive line.
Junior Marlon Gonzalez will plug the gaps up front at defensive tackle. At 6-foot-3 and 245-pounds the junior has received offers from Cincinnati and Florida Atlantic. The University of Miami is also showing strong interest.
Gonzalez had just 14 solo tackles in 2012, but Bowen expects a big 2013 campaign from the junior. Joining Gonzalez on the line is senior Christian Diaz, who had a team-high 57 solo tackles last year.
Senior Christian Banasiak, a Riverdale transfer, will play strong-side linebacker and at 6-foot-3, 235-pounds he should make an immediate impact. Banasiak has fielded offers from Cincinnati, Iowa State and Marshall.
“I’ve been getting a lot better at my reads and hitting,” Banasiak said. “I feel like I’m very welcomed here. Everyone likes the new players.”
The Gators moved down to Class 5A this season. They will play in a seven-team district with Cypress Lake, Mariner, Lemon Bay, North Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Dunbar. Ida Baker, South Fort Myers and Riverdale are on the non-district schedule.
Island Coast will travel to Fort Lauderdale University in its season finale. University is the defending Class 4A state champion and finished 2012 at 13-0, ranked No. 10 in the country according to MaxPreps. It’s the third meeting in the last four seasons between the two schools. University defeated Island Coast 34-28 in the 2010 Class 2B state semifinals. The two met in Island Coast’s home opener last season and University won handily, 44-27.
“I like the coach [Roger Harriott]. They’re a very good ball team, one of the tops in the state,” Bowen said. “That’s a good gauge for us at the end of the year, if we make the playoffs, because they’re going to be one of the top teams in the state. I want to see how we fare against that.”