There were no high expectations for the Island Coast Gators football team entering their inaugural varsity season one year ago.
Now, after claiming the District 2B-6 championship in that first season, and returning 19 of 22 starters, including several highly-recruited players, the Gators have set the bar pretty high for their second season.
"We do not have our baby crutch anymore," said Gators coach Joe Bowen. "We are not the new team in the district, and everybody knows who we are now."
Island Coast senior Nelson Candelario will quarterback the Gators’ attack this season.
The driving force of the Gators again is the defense, which finished last season strong by allowing only eight points in their last three district games. The defense returns the entire line, linebacker corps and only loses one starter in the secondary.
The face of that defense is end Aaron Lynch, who recently made a verbal commitment to the University of Notre Dame. At 6-foot-6 and almost 270 pounds, Lynch is as big or bigger than most offensive lineman he will go up against, and is as fast as most of the runningbacks he chases down.
"He's pretty big and he can definitely move. He's the best player I've ever coached," Bowen said of Lynch, who recorded 15 sacks last season.
Lynch will not be the only one making plays on the defensive line. Opposite him is end Jimmy Stewart, who recorded eight sacks last year. Between Lynch and Stewart are the Bosworth twins, Bryan and Scott, at defensive tackles. Three of the four defensive line starters are being recruited by Division I football schools, said Bowen.
"The defensive line is the strength of our team," he said.
Also returning is linebacker Willie Fleming, who was one of the leading tacklers in the area last season, recording 127 tackles as a sophomore.
"Willie is definitely the vocal leader of the defense," Bowen said.
Leading the defensive backs are Nelson Candelario and Josh Guffey, both of whom are seniors. The Gators offense is looking to continue to improve after a strong spring showing in which the ground attack was the main focus.
Leading the veer set is junior Michael Dumas, who returns at quarterback and led the team with 12 touchdowns last season.
One newcomer is wingback Mario Pender, who put on a show in the Gators' spring game scoring on several long runs. Bowen expects to see more of that during the season.
"Pender will have a pretty good season for us," Bowen said.
The rest of the backfield includes wingback Phillip Woolbright and fullback Louis King, both starters last season. The Gators lost two starters on the offensive line, one by graduation and one a transfer, but Bowen is not worried as both spots were solidified just a few days into fall practices.
Lynch and Stewart also are the team's top receiving threats, with Stewart starting at wide receiver and Lynch seeing time at both tight end and wide receiver. Bowen is pleased to have Kyle Fitzgerald returning at kicker.
"That's huge for us," said Bowen. "We are going to work on improving our technique. Our goal as a team is to extend our season, and that comes by winning district games and, ultimately, the district championship."
Island Coast High School Gators
Sept. 3 - vs. North Fort Myers
Sept. 10 - at Cypress Lake
Sept. 16 - vs. Ida Baker
Sept. 24 - vs. Clewiston-x
Oct. 1 - at Mariner
Oct. 8 - at Lake Placid-x
Oct. 15 - at Cape Coral
Oct. 22 - vs. Dunbar-x
Oct. 29 - vs. Gateway Charter-x
Nov. 5 - at LaBelle-x
Head Coach: Joe Bowen ('08), third season (9-8)
Assistants: Brian Jones (off. coord.), Terry Hauser (def. coordinator), Craig Clause (WR/DB), Steve Taylor (def. line), Chris Sneddon (off. line), Jim O'Brien (RB), Dave Brooks (def. line)
Team Colors: Hunter green & Vegas gold
Stadium: 2125 Del Navarra Pkwy., Cape Coral.
Playoff History: 2009 - Lake Highland Prep 28, Island Coast 0.
Home: 4-2 Away: 2-3
North FM 45, Island Coast 27
Island Coast 21, Cypress Lake 10
Ida Baker 30, Island Coast 3
Clewiston 32, Island Coast 28
Island Coast 17, Mariner 14
Island Coast 23, Lake Placid 8
Cape Coral 32, Island Coast 0
Island Coast 6, Dunbar 2
Island Coast 66, Gateway Charter 6
Island Coast 57, LaBelle 0
Lake Highland Prep 28, Island Coast 0