There’s a renewed sense of belief with the Island Coast football program as it begins its second year under head coach John Schwochow.
The Gators, who went 2-8 in 2015, are thinking playoffs again.
“Spring football was tremendous,” said Schwochow, who was hired last June. “I didn’t have that a year ago. They know what our expectations are and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Much of last season felt rushed for Island Coast, which found it hard to compete in District 6A-10 (1-5) or its nonconference schedule (1-3) without the benefit of spring practice with Schwochow. They won two games by a combined four points and lost eight others by an average of 28 points per game.
With five starters returning on the offensive side of the ball and four others on defense, this year feels different, Schwochow says. The Gators are stronger, faster and smarter.
Offense: Island Coast threw more than most high school programs in 2015 with a 40-60 run-to-pass ratio, and that likely won’t change a season later. With two-year starter Kory Curtis under center, Island Coast may even extend its offense to allow for more vertical action down the field.
Curtis completed just 46 percent of his passes last year for a total of 1,233 yards, but he also had less time to throw and was forced to make a lot of throws under pressure.
Senior Marlon Gaymon, who did a little bit of everything last year, including kick and punt return duties, returns after caching 43 passes for 694 yards and five touchdowns. He was the only skill position player who produced more than 1,000 all-purpose yards in 2015.
He will pair with senior Smith Joseph and junior receivers Drew Lusk and Marcus Evans to create a talented receiving corps.
“Talent-wise, top to bottom, I think they’re one of the best,” Schwochow said of his receivers.
If the Gators are to have any success, senior running backs Jerry Cambric and Calvin Smith will also have to produce between the tackles. Cambric split time a season ago with senior Antonio Greaves and finished with 378 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
At offensive line, the Gators will feature junior tackles Chris Taylor and Dylan Woods, junior guard Joshua Sutton and a handful of others.
Defense: Island Coast will feature a 4-2-5 defense that will morph, at times, to resemble a 4-4. It will be strong up front with defensive end Jordan Zorbas and tackles Wood and Taylor.
At middle linebacker, the Gators will rely on the playmaking ability of Zahir Alma, JD Thomas and Brodrick Hamilton.
Cornerbacks Cameron Howitt and Clifton Henderson return as two of Island Coast’s most experienced defensive players.
Safety, however, is a question mark. And the same can be said for tackling. In their spring game against Fort Myers, the Gators struggled wrapping up ball carriers and gave up a number of big plays.
“Our big thing is creating turnovers,” Schwochow said. “If we can do that, we should be all right.”
Outlook: The schedule begins with a tough opponent in South Fort Myers and continues in ensuing weeks with dates against Naples, Sarasota, North Fort Myers and Lehigh — almost all teams with legitimate playoff aspirations themselves.
So if the tide is to change with the Gators in 2016, Schwochow believes the program will need to build momentum over the first five weeks.
Difficult games remain with Charlotte on Sept. 30 and Dunbar on Oct. 7 before Island Coast finishes the season with three straight district games.
“We have to have some momentum and some success early on so we keep everybody going,” he said.
2015 record: 2-8, no playoffs
Aug. 26: at South Fort Myers, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2: at Naples, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 9: Sarasota, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 16: at North Fort Myers, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 23: at Lehigh, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 30: at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7: Dunbar, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 14: Cape Coral, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21: Port Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 28: at Ida Baker, 7:30 p.m.