Note to readers: The News-Press high school sports reporters Cory Mull and Adam Regan have wrapped up 11 weeks of covering the regular season of high school football in Southwest Florida. Now, with the playoffs looming on Friday, Mull and Regan break it down and tell you the 25 things they learned about this season.
1. North Fort Myers’ Zaquandre White is the best running back in Southwest Florida. Throwing a punch in a preseason classic robbed the junior of a possible record-breaking season, but he did rush for 943 yards in just five games.
2. Never write off Fort Myers.Yes, everyone assumed a young Green Wave team would win District 6A-11, but an 8-2 finish with impressive wins over rivals South Fort Myers, Dunbar and North Fort Myers?
3. Dunbar linebacker Zach Lackman has flown way under the radar this season. The Old Dominion commit has 129 tackles and six sacks this season. He has over 400 tackles in his prep career.
4. An 0-5 record isn’t a death sentence. Just ask Estero. The Wildcats started this season with five straight losses and won four of its next five, including two crucial district games to earn a playoff berth under first-year coach Jeff Hanlon.
5. Talent alone doesn’t win games. Lehigh had plenty of it, but managed just a 3-6 campaign filled with off-the-field distractions.
6. Defense may not always win games, but can certainly lose them. Cape Coral, which finished 2-8, gave up over 45 points a game this season, the second worst average in Class 6A.
7. Riverdale is a work in progress. The Raider finished 3-7, but played playoff-bound teams Dunbar, Palmetto Ridge, Gulf Coast and South Fort Myers tough. It should be interesting to see what coach Damon Jones can do next year.
8. South Fort Myers will never stop churning out top-tier talent.
Willie Johnson, Andre Polk, Ke’Shon Murray, E’Quan Dorris, Dartanian Gotay and the list goes on and on. The Wolfpack are well-equipped to beat Venice in the first round of the playoffs Friday at home.
9. William Scott made all the difference for Bishop Verot. The sophomore running back transferred to South Fort Myers in the winter and ended up coming back to Verot before this season. He followed up a spectacular freshman season with 1,500 yards rushing and 17 TDs. If he played in what turned out to be a district title game against Avon Park, Verot may be playing at home this week rather than traveling to powerhouse Cocoa.
10. Put your trust in John Schwochow. The former South Fort Myers defensive coordinator became Island Coast’s third head coach in a five-month span after spring practice concluded. The Gators went 2-8 against one of the toughest schedules in Southwest Florida. Expect to see a different team next season.
11. Ida Baker’s Rasheed Golden deserves first-team all-area consideration at receiver. The senior led his district in receiving last year and finished with 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
12. Southwest Florida Christian Academy is a tough out. The Kings nearly knocked off eventual District 2A-7 champion First Baptist and made 9-1 Community School work to beat them.
13. Remember the name Cairo Jeunegens. The Mariner junior quarterback was a dual threat this season and will be a force to be reckoned with next season.
14. Palmetto Ridge’s past had no part in its future. First time head coach Chris Toukonen was hired for his ideas, experience and, well, potential. No one expected the Bears to claim their first 8-win season in over 10 years, but well the former Cocoa High assistant gave it to them anyway.
15. Naples is the best team in Southwest Florida. Some will argue that honor goes to undefeated Charlotte. But for comparison’s sake: Charlotte beat four teams with six wins or more. Naples defeated four teams with at least seven wins or more.
16. Speaking of Naples, they had the most talent we’ve seen on one team in Southwest Florida this year. Carlin Fils-aime is committed to Tennessee. Tyler Byrd is committed to Miami. Chris Riley is committed to Holy Cross. Who’s next? Robert Green? Kieran DiGiornio? Jerry Nunez? Crandall Maines?
17. Gulf Coast is a year away from a big season. The District 7A-12 runner-up Sharks have won seven games so far, but they haven’t quite won a game they weren’t supposed to, which is a true mark of a great team. They do have fantastic pieces moving forward and head coach Pete Fominaya has proven to be a creative strategist on the sidelines.
18. Barron Collier senior tight end Matt Heuerman is just as good as his brothers – Notre Dame junior tight end Mike and NFL rookie tight end Jeff.
It’s actually quite odd that he only has one legitimate Division I offer at this point (Jacksonville State). He had 51 catches for 685 yards and eight touchdowns on the season, better than any his brother’s ever had in high school.
19. Community School of Naples is becoming a small school power. The Seahawks are on the verge of winning at least 10 games for the third straight year. But if they want to make to really make waves, they’ll need to beat FBA in District 2A-7, which they failed to do in 2015.
20. Immokalee is close to finding an identity under Dale More. The Indians, who have won five games heading into their Region 5A-3 playoff game against Lemon Bay, showed improvement but still lack that final touch in the red zone.
21. Marco Island was an aerial show this year. Junior quarterback Andrew Fowler might be the most undervalued quarterback prospect in the area. He finished with 1,969 yards on 58-percent passing and tossed 18 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. But perhaps during a two-win season, he was simply trying to make things happen when they weren’t there.
22. Golden Gate was in rebuild mode in 2015. They rarely had a loss that was close, averaging nearly a negative point differential of 36 points in five losses. They also had two games they lost by less than seven points, which would have given them five wins on the season.
23. Lely’s Culmer St. Jean was given another high school football lesson. Coaching is hard. The third-year leader for the Trojans had his worst season since 2013, when he debuted with the program with four wins. And it came after last year’s breakthrough eight win campaign.
24. Don’t doubt the Lions. Just when you thought there was a chance First Baptist Academy would give up its reign in District 2A-7, they came out firing again, winning at least eight games for the fifth straight season under head coach Billy Sparacio. Count another district championship for the Lions.
25. No single player was more productive than Jaheem Washington this year. The Palmetto Ridge senior was seventh in Florida in rushing with 1,896 yards. He had almost 2,000 total yards overall. And to top it off, he was Homecoming King, too.