Monday marks the beginning of a new season of high school football in Southwest Florida.
And with any new campaign, there are stories to follow, teams to evaluate and players to examine.
Below are the five key story lines to follow during camp.
1. Immokalee’s transition under Dale More
The Indians hired More, the team’s offensive coordinator under previous head coach Rich Dombrowski, in January, making him the fifth new head coach since 2007. Tough expectations have followed most new coaches at the school, which last won a state championship in 2004.
But if there was any time to make a change, it was in January, just a month after the season ended.
More will have had almost seven months with his team, including the team’s spring game win against Lehigh, before heading into the season in August. The early prognosis looks good.
2. Coaching carousel
More is one of just a handful of new coaches in the area with new programs. Lehigh’s James Chaney hopes the Lightning can turn the corner in just his first year with the club after replacing Nate Sund.
Barron Collier has former Estero coach Mark Jackson. Estero has former St. John Neumann skipper Jeff Hanlon. Canterbury has former Delray Beach American Heritage coach Stacy Sizemore.
South Fort Myers promoted Anthony Dixon from his assistant role. Former Wolfpack defensive coordinator John Schwochow landed as Island Coast’s third coach in two seasons.
Palmetto Ridge hired rookie head coach Chris Toukonen from Cocoa High. St. John Neumann went with Simon Codrington III, an offensive lineman on the University of Florida’s national championship team in 2006.
New eyes. New schemes. New potential.
3. Sophomore splash
On any given Friday, you will find an array of talent on the sidelines. There are players such as Naples seniors’ Carlin Fils-Aime (Tennessee) and Tyler Byrd (Miami) and North Fort Myers’ Zaquandre White (Florida State) and Mi’Cario Stanley (USF) who already committed to major programs.
And there are others, like South Fort Myers’ Willie Johnson and Andre Polk, who are still searching for the right program to call home.
But some of the most interesting development can be seen in emerging sophomore talents like Lehigh’s Chris Curry, Riverdale’s Jacob Tracey, South Fort Myers’ William Scott and Fort Myers’ Randy Smith.
4. Big game atmosphere
You won’t find a bigger, and perhaps better, matchup than what hits the calendar on August 21. North Fort Myers will travel to South Fort Myers in a game you simply cannot miss.
Wolfpack head coach Anthony Dixon said ESPN recruiting writers will be on the sidelines. Guess what? So will plenty of scouts.
But keep an eye on these games, too: ••Week 1, Fort Myers at Palmetto — the Tigers have one of the best prep quarterbacks in the nation in Jack Allison; • Week 2, Fort Myers at North Fort Myers; • Week 5, Fort Myers at Charlotte; Week 7, Naples at Lely — Coconut Bowl; • Week 10, Lehigh at Riverdale — potentially two of the most improved teams this season.
5. State championship aspirations
Is this the year?
Local teams will likely say ‘this is the year’ every new season — at least the ones with high expectations do — but this campaign presents one of the most interesting to consider.
You have to start with the team that’s been the last to prove it, Naples High. The Golden Eagles won a state championship in 2007, and before that in 2001. Eight years later, they’re as talented as ever.
Fils-Aime is healthy, Byrd is considered one of the best defensive backs in the state, and quarterback Kieran DiGiorno seems capable of leading the program to heights it hasn’t reached in some time.
Around Collier County, you can’t sleep on Immokalee, either, a state champion in 2004.
But what about Lee County? No team from the area has ever won a state championship.
So will this be the year North Fort Myers, blessed with some of the best talent in the state, make the jump to the big leagues, beating traditional east coast powers in the process?
Can South Fort Myers, behind longtime assistant Dixon, quiet all the doubters out there?
Will Fort Myers reload or rebuild?
All viable questions to consider in 2015.
Get ready for high school football on Monday.
High school football practice officially begins on Monday across the state. The Florida High School Athletic Association only allows for non-contact practice for the first five days of training camp. Contact drills begin at August 8. Preseason jamborees are scheduled for August 21 while the first week of regular season games begin on August 28.