After claiming back-to-back district championships in Class 2B, and despite being bumped up to Class 6A for 2011, the Island Coast Gators garnered the most votes of area coaches as the preseason No. 1 football team in Lee County.
Lehigh, which went 5-5 last season, picked up two first-place votes and enough points overall to rank No. 2. Riverdale, Fort Myers and South Fort Myers round out the top five.
Cape Coral, 10-2 last season, comes in at No. 6. Ida Baker was voted No. 10 with North Fort Myers at No. 11 followed by Mariner and Bishop Verot at 14th and 15th, respectively.
The Gators are coming off their school-best 11-2 campaign that took them to the regional finals for the first time in school history.
"We want to continue what we did last year," said Gators coach Joe Bowen. "The ranking will have no effect."
The FHSAA two-year reclassification for 2011 propelled the Gators upwards a healthy four classes. They leave behind a district that consisted of Dunbar, Clewiston, Lake Placid, LaBelle and Gateway Charter and say hello to their new rivals in District 6A-11 of Fort Myers, Riverdale, Ida Baker, Bishop Verot, and North and South Fort Myers.
"Our competition is a lot stiffer this year," Bowen said. "The positive thing about it is there are a lot of local teams. That makes it a lot harder, but from a coaching standpoint we don't have to travel an hour and a half. We look forward to playing county schools instead of schools the kids might never have heard of before."
Gone are the main components of one of last season's best defensive units in Southwest Florida, including graduated pass rushers Jimmy Stewart and Aaron Lynch. The Gators, however, retain several starters from that unit as well as one of the most potent offensive backfields with Mario Pender and Michael Dumas.
The Breeze sports department's ranking of the 17 public and private high school football programs in Lee County, as voted by area coaches, prior to the start of the regular season. Points were awarded 17 for a first-place vote, 16 for second-place, etc. First-place votes in parentheses:
Rank / Team Points
1. Island Coast (8)168
2. Lehigh (2) 159
3. Riverdale 135
3. Fort Myers 135
5. South Fort Myers 127
6. Cape Coral 110
7. Dunbar 103
8. East Lee County 87
9. Cypress Lake 84
10. Ida Baker 83
11. North Fort Myers 71
12. Evangelical Christian 64
13. Estero 58
13. Mariner 58
15. Bishop Verot 55
16. Gateway Charter 17
17. SWF Christian 16