In only three seasons, the Island Coast Gators football team has established itself as a program synonymous with winning. The Gators have won district championships and playoff games each of the past two seasons.
Gators players have won national recognition and scholarships to major football universities. Coach Joe Bowen, who has led the program since its inception in 2008, hopes to continue the team's winning ways entering their fourth varsity season.
Several challenges face the Gators, including the task of replacing key players from last season and a giant leap from Class 2B to 6A.
Island Coast senior linemen Luis Olivio and Marcos Canino lock up during practice. More photos are available online at: cu.cape-coral-daily-breeze.com.
"It is certainly going to be a challenge," said Bowen. "Every week we have to face stiff competition, but our goals are still the same. We want to win as many games as possible and make it to the playoffs."
Last season the Gators accomplished their goals by winning 11 games, but fell short of reaching the state championship game. The driving force in the playoff run was a daunting defense, led by one of the nation's top players in Aaron Lynch. With Lynch and the rest of last season's powerful defensive line all graduated, the Gators have huge holes to fill up front.
"You cannot duplicate a defensive line like that, it was a once-in-a-lifetime line," said Bowen, "but we've got kids that are eager at the opportunity to replace those guys."
Stepping into the leadership role on defense is senior linebacker Willie Fleming, who has been one of the top tacklers in the state the past two seasons, a combined 201 tackles.
He is joined by five returning starters on defense, including fellow linebacker Louis King, a three-year starter who had 50 tackles last year. In the secondary is safety Mike Dumas, who is being recruited by several Division I schools. Bitavious Shannon led the Gators in interceptions last season with five, and returns at cornerback.
On offense the Gators have been known for a dominant rushing attack, and look to do the same this season with the return of one of the nation's top runningbacks in Mario Pender, a Florida State commit. Pender had one of the more dominant seasons in Lee County history with 2,261 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns last season.
"We hope he can repeat the effort he gave us last season. He has the speed to run past you or the power to run through you," Bowen said.
Starting at quarterback is Dumas, who started there as a freshman and split time with Nelson Candelario in his sophomore and junior seasons. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Dumas is tough to tackle and brings an explosive playmaker to the triple-option attack.
Filling out the backfield are fullbacks Fleming and King, who have shared carries for the past two seasons.
Leading the way up front are senior center Parker Cauble and junior tackle Nick Fasano, both of whom started last season, helping the Gators grind out 350 rushing yards a game.
The Gators open the regular season Sept. 2 in Orlando against Delaware Valley (Pa.).
Island Coast Gators
Sept. 2 - vs. Delaware Valley (Pa.) at Orlando
Sept. 9 - at Estero
Sept. 16 - at Mariner
Sept. 23 - vs. North Fort Myers-x
Sept. 30 - at Ida Baker-x
Oct. 6 - vs. Fort Myers-x
Oct. 14 - at Bishop Verot-x
Oct. 21 - vs. South Fort Myers-x
Oct. 28 - at Riverdale-x
Nov. 11 - vs. Cape Coral
Head Coach: Joe Bowen ('08), 4th season (20-10)
Assistants: Terry Hauser (def. coord.), Brian Jones (off. coord.), Chris Sneddon (off. line), Dave Brooks (def. line), Mike Sturgis (RB/DB).
Team Colors: Hunter Green & Vegas Gold
Stadium: 2125 Del Navarra Pkwy., Cape Coral.
Playoff History: 2009 - Lake Highland Prep 28, Island Coast 0. 2010 - Island Coast 28, Tampa Catholic 0; Island Coast 42, Lake Highland Prep 21; Ft. Lauderdale University School 34, Island Coast 28.
Home: 7-1 Away: 4-1 District: 5-0
I.Coast 38, North Fort Myers 0
Cypress Lake 13, I.Coast 6
I Coast 55, Ida Baker 0
I.Coast 55, Clewiston 0
I.Coast 61, Mariner 0
I.Coast 54, Lake Placid 0
I.Coast 21, Cape Coral 11
I.Coast 10, Dunbar 6
I.Coast 58, Gateway Charter 0
I.Coast 48, LaBelle 10
I. Coast 28, Tampa Catholic 0
I. Coast 42, Lake Highland Prep 21
Ft. Lauderdale Univ. School 34, I. Coast 28