Last season was a lost season of sorts for the Lehigh Senior High football team.
First-year coach James Chaney coached just two games before being suspended for a sideline infraction by his assistants. He also spent five weeks away from the team when he was under a professional standards inquiry by the Lee County School District.
Injuries also wreaked havoc at key positions.
Those hurdles let what should have been a promising season slip to a 3-6 record and missing the state playoffs.
One would think Chaney and his team left 2015 in their rearview mirror. Not exactly.
“We all have to learn from our mistakes,” Chaney said. “When I was going through what I was going through I didn’t wallow in it. I didn’t blame anyone but myself. I didn’t hold any grudges. That’s the type of mentality I want my kids to develop.”
That being said, Chaney and his staff have focused on getting their team better each day to achieve its goals.
“We’re going to eat this elephant one teaspoon at a time,” Chaney said. “Our goal is to get better hourly and daily. When you put enough pennies in the cookie jar you end up getting what you need in the end.”
Offense: The 2015 season could have looked a lot different for Lehigh if not for a few plays here and there. The Lightning lost two one-point games and didn’t get the offensive performance they hoped for in a de facto postseason play-in game against District 6A-11 foe Estero, mustering just seven points.
Lehigh’s main focus will be improving upon its 16 points per game average of last season.
A lot of the onus will be on the running back tandem of junior Chris Curry and senior Jalane Nelson. The versatile Curry, who has offers from North Carolina and Western Kentucky, posted three 100-plus-yard rushing performances in five games before dislocating his shoulder, but is now 100 percent healthy.
Nelson could be the perfect compliment to Curry with great vision and quickness.
“You don’t have to wear one person out,” Chaney said. “The goal is to keep people healthy and fresh. We’re going to give it to the guy with the hot hand.”
Another player making his way back from injury is senior quarterback D’Marquise Collins, who possess an above average arm and great mobility.
Chaney will work to fill some holes on the offensive line and at wide receiver. Losing standout receiver Shocky-Jacques Louis to transfer was a huge blow to the offense, but Chaney thinks a trio of big targets in 6-foot-3 senior Brock Hall, 6-foot-3 junior Russell Brown and junior Christian Guerra are up to the task.
“The best thing about those guys is they love to block,” Chaney said.
Along the offensive line, center Chad Sykes will anchor the unit that also features Travis Lewis, Rigo Villa and Smith Joseph.
Defense: The Lightning didn’t participate in a lot of 7-on-7s this summer because a premium was placed on time in the weight room to get stronger. The reason for that was Chaney’s priority of stopping the run.
Achieving that goal will start with a big, athletic group of line backers led by middle linebacker Jacquez Brown, whose name is gaining momentum on the recruiting circuit after receiving offers from UNC-Charlotte and Toledo. He’ll be joined on the second level, which is made up of three juniors and a senior, by Jeff Augustin and Thyreek Etienne.
Up front, Chaney expects big things from nose guard Mardochee Simon and defensive ends Chris Pierre and Derrick Massey.
Free safey Quan Martin, who led the team with seven interceptions last season, is in the secondary along with cornerbacks Demontae Hart and Arthur Nance as well as rover Delshawn Green.
Outlook: Just as it was last season, behind powerhouse Fort Myers High, District 6A-11’s second playoff spot is up for grabs between Lehigh, Estero and East Lee County. Chaney, however, isn’t much for looking that far ahead.
“We don’t want to hear about (Week 1 opponent) Palmetto Ridge. We don’t want to hear about Fort Myers,” Chaney said. “We’re not focused on anyone else. We’re preparing soundly and working on us.”
2015 record: 3-6
Aug. 26 — Palmetto Ridge, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 — at Dunbar, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 9 — at South Fort Myers, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 — at Barron Collier, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 — Island Coast, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 30 — at Fort Myers, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 — Cape Coral, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 14 — East Lee County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 — BYE
Oct. 28 — at Estero, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 4 — Riverdale, 7:30 p.m.