The 93rd high school football season in Southwest Florida history begins today with practices across the region as the calendar turns toward the regular season openers.
This season, which begins Aug. 30, will feature plenty of newness: an 11-man program at Canterbury, new coaches at nine of the 30 area schools, and new rules to begin practices.
The Florida High School Athletic Association has enacted new practice protocols for starting the season.
A five-day, heat acclimatization period has been mandated by the FHSAA, meaning players will dress in helmets and shorts for the first two days followed by shoulder pads and helmets, but not full pads, for the following three days. Players can do hitting drills against blocking sleds and padded shields during the second, three-day period.
Tackling and full-contact drills will not be allowed until the sixth day, as compared to the fourth day in previous seasons.
The FHSAA also has banned two-a-day, full-pads practices. Teams can practice for 3 ½hours in full pads following the heat acclimatization period and come back for a second practice session, recommended to be 50 minutes long, following an hour-long break. That second practice cannot be in full pads.
“Some coaches are going to complain, because now there are five days with no contact,” Fort Myers coach Sam Sirianni said. “But those next three days, you can’t have full contact, but you can have sleds and shields and blocking dummies. I believe this is going to benefit the process of teaching proper technique. We’re going to get more time to do the things that are imperative to teaching.
“I believe the tradeoff is better than what it was. I believe football is still about blocking and tackling. I believe everybody will do a better job with the fundamentals. If you fundamentally block and tackle correctly, the risk of injury drops tremendously.
“It’s going to be different, waiting five full days to get into full pads. I believe ultimately, you’re going to make better football players and a better football team.”
Since 1920, when the Fort Myers Green Wave became the first of the area’s programs to hit the gridiron, no team from Lee County has won a state championship.
Naples (2001 and 2003) and Immokalee (2004) have captured state crowns for Collier County, with the Immokalee Indians reaching the Class 5A state title game last season, falling to Tallahassee Godby, 21-20, at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
Now the Indians will start another season hoping it will end in Orlando with a new coach in Rich Dombroski and a new quarterback in Louinelson Celian.
Dombroski replaced Jerrod Ackley, who resigned and took the head coaching job at Palm Bay Bayside High School.
Celian replaced University of Cincinnati-bound Tshumbi Johnson.
“I think he’s going to do a great job,” Dombroski said. “He ran the team last year when Tshumbi was hurt. The team is responding to him as the quarterback. It’s his team now. He has been doing a great job all summer as a leader.”
This summer, many of the Indians participated in seven-on-seven competitions and numerous organized conditioning sessions, which had Dombroski wondering the need for a change in practice protocol.
“My kids are in great shape,” said Dombroski, who coached the previous five seasons at Estero. “So we could do a two-a-day if we were allowed to. To mandate the policy is geared toward schools that aren’t doing anything in the offseason.”
Beginning today, new rules, new players and new coaches all will be in place, especially at Immokalee, which marched deeper into the postseason last year than any other area team.
The expectations for the Indians, Dombroski said, remain almost the same.
“We’re expected to win, don’t get me wrong,” Dombroski said. “But I think everyone understands we don’t have the same caliber team as last year. We don’t have those five or six kids from last year. I think everyone understands that.
“Last year, they’ve been there. They know what it’s like. They want to get back. Like I said, if we do it, that will be great.”