After several years of struggle, the Mariner Tritons are hoping to turn things around and return the football program to prominence with new head coach James Hale.
Hale returns to Lee County after 13 years in the Florida panhandle. He led Cape Coral High to a 51-42 record over nine seasons including the regional playoffs with school's best mark of 12-1 in 1993.
"Some of my ex-students and ex-staff members have come up to me and say 'What are you doing at Mariner?'," said Hale. "Actually, the kids that are at Cape now don't know who I am, so going against them this year won't be that big a deal for me or them. Things were a lot different back then. There are more schools now, too."
Mariner senior quarterback candidate Jonah Markovits makes a toss as the team practices for next week’s preseason classic game at home against South Fort Myers.
Back then, it was a bigger deal for Cape to beat Mariner than Fort Myers. Hale lost six of nine Black-and-Blue Bowl games to the Tritons while at Cape. By the way, the Seahawks have won eight straight games in the crosstown rivalry series.
Hale said the Tritons are on the small size physically and do not possess a lot of speed, but the school's new weight room should bulk them up by next season.
"We've got the opportunity now to build this thing back up like it was when Joe Rose had it," said Hale. "Those things are going to happen. They didn't have the facilities. We didn't have them when I got to Cape, either, until we got the weights. It's hard for coaches and players when you don't have facilities. It's not their fault, but now we do."
(All games 7:30 p.m.)
Aug. 23 - vs. South Fort Myers (preseason)
Aug. 30 - at Estero
Sept. 6 - vs. Palmetto Ridge
Sept. 13 - at Port Charlotte,
Sept. 20 - at North Fort Myers-x
Sept. 27 - vs. Island Coast-x
Oct. 4 - vs.Dunbar-x
Oct. 11 - vs. Golden Gate
Oct. 18 - at Lemon Bay-x
Oct. 25 - at Cypress Lake-x
Nov. 1 - vs. Cape Coral-x
Head Coach: James Hale ('13), first year
Assistants: James Iandoli (LB), Travis Smith (DL, OL, OC), Jim Burant (DC, OT, TE, LB), David Brooks (DE), Billy Brooks (QB), Isaac Harvin (RB), David Markovits (RB), Keith Jones (WR, DB).
Team Colors: black & silver
Stadium: Tony McKenna Field, 701 Chiquita Blvd.
Playoff History: 1991 - Mariner 21, Jesuit 6; Haines City 19, Mariner 16 (Regionals); 1997 - Miramar 40, Mariner 30; 1998 Plantation 49, Mariner 19. 2003 - Bradenton Bayshore 20, Mariner 0. 2004 - Mariner 30, Charlotte 27 (2OT); Seffner Armwood 50, Mariner 7.
Home: 2-3 Away: 1-4 District: 1-4
Mariner 38, Bishop Verot 20
Mariner 34, North Fort Myers 3
Island Coast 52, Mariner 7
x-Lehigh 28, Mariner 23 -x
x-East Lee County 49, Mariner 7 -x
Port Charlotte 29, Mariner 13
x-Cape Coral 24, Mariner 17 -x
x-Estero 48, Mariner 35 -x
x-Mariner 44, Cypress Lake 14 -x
Ida Baker 47, Mariner 20
Hale said he doesn't know or care who the returning players or starters are from last year's 3-7 squad.
"I want to see how they do and form my own opinion on what we've got," Hale said. "In the spring game we were not able to do the zone blocking like I want, but we will get bigger and stronger during the season and run a multi-offense, multi-defense style of play."
Just like the returning and starting players, Hale is starting fresh against six district rivals in the new District 5A-14. The Tritons are aligned with old rivals Cape Coral, Dunbar, Cypress Lake and Island Coast plus newcomers North Fort Myers and Lemon Bay for the next two seasons.
"This first year I want to focus on what we can accomplish and be the best we can be," said Hale. "We should improve every single game."
The Tritons host South Fort Myers on Aug. 23 in the preseason classic, then open the regular season at Estero on Aug. 30. The series with the Seahawks closes out the season on Nov. 1.
"I want us to practice at a certain standard and play at a certain standard," added Hale, who has not yet settled on who his starters will be at any position. "I have no idea. However, I am pleased with the way the kids played hard for 3 1/2 quarters in the spring game. Now we have to do it for four quarters. It takes awhile to put the puzzle together."
In the meantime, until he becomes reacquainted with the skill levels of the opposition, Hale will lean heavily on his assistants early in the season. Many of those assistants were with him at Cape High. Jim Burant, David Brooks, Billy Brooks and Keith Jones assisted Hale during Cape's run of five good seasons.
Isaac Harvin, who played for Hale at Cape, is responsible for coaching the Tritons' quarterbacks. David Markovits, Travis Smith and former North Fort Myers coach James Iandoli were retained off last year's Mariner staff.
"We're going to put blindfolds on them and turn this thing around," said Hale, who was 80-52 in 13 seasons while building Panama City Arnold's program from scratch. "We've got a long way to go."
Hale hopes the defense he puts on the field is able to stop the run for the Tritons to have any chance to win. Then it's up to the offense.
"To win a championship you've got to do both, run and pass, and stop the run on defense," said Hale.