Spring football practice isn't the beginning of a new story at Island Coast High School. New coach Wayne Blair just sees it as the next chapter.
Blair was hired in April to succeed Joe Bowen, the only head football coach the Gators had known. Bowen, who presided over the birth of Gators football, resigned in February after going 42-19 in five varsity seasons.
"Joe Bowen did a good job here," Blair said. "Taking no credit away from him and the staff of guys that he had. Obviously by bringing me in I think it's just trying to I would probably say a new direction. Winning now for (the players) is not only winning within your district, but trying to win beyond the district. Like (Sarasota) Booker and whoever else is outside the county."
Island Coast senior-to-be Ryan Pulley catches a pass at spring practice Wednesday.
It was Booker that ended the Gators' season in the playoffs last fall after a District 5A-14 title.
"Job one is going ahead and winning your district, and then trying to prepare these guys for down the road" on the way to a state title, Blair said. "With that being said, we've got our work cut out for us. Creating the attitude, making sure the guys are accountable, character, everything basically putting the onus back on the student-athlete and sending them in the right direction. Making them try to do the right thing."
While Blair has been able to see his players in school, and some of them on game tape from last season, now he has the chance to see them work out live in pads for the first time.
"As far as being able to watch and view some of these guys on film, whether that be transfers or as guys that were in place, they're impressive," Blair said.
"The one thing that we as a unit need to work on is basically finishing games and finishing an opponent," Blair said. "Not letting anybody feel like they have any type of life. Stepping on their throat and basically extinguishing them."
This spring primarily will be a chance for Blair and his squad to get to know each other.
"Getting to know what I have," Blair said. "There's some guys, younger guys that don't have any game experience on the varsity or the junior varsity. As far as system-wise, I'm pretty much keeping everything the same, looking toward the fall for implementing some of the things that I became accustomed to and had good success with. Summer would be the reshaping and revamping. Right now I'm just basically getting to know everybody."?And letting the players know what to expect from Blair.
"Oh yeah," he said. "Dog gone right."
One thing Blair has done is issue all his players a planner. They're expected to have that planner with them, keeping track of where and when they're supposed to be as a football player.
"Holding them to a standard that I call the standard of a championship player," Blair said. "With that comes sacrifice, guys having to buy in."
The Gators wrap up spring with a game at Fort Myers on May 16.
"The one thing I'm looking forward to is probably execution and definitely being able to start and finish," he said. "I'll say it again, one more time, we're trying to create a championship-type environment.
"Let these guys know that I'm here, just tweak some things. I'm not trying to change their whole personality. I'm just here to tweak some things in the manner that I know."
Blair came to Island Coast after three years as the coach at Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson High School. He was 18-16 overall, including two trips to the playoffs. The Cobras' best season under Blair was 2012, then Boyd Anderson reached the region final before losing to state powerhouse Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas.
Blair was part of that powerhouse tradition as a player in the early 1990s, and after his Tulane University and Canadian Football League career, an assistant coach at Aquinas. He was the defensive coordinator at Boyd Anderson before becoming the head coach there.
As a player at Aquinas, Blair was part of teams that eliminated star-studded Fort Myers High teams coached by Sam Sirianni Sr. from the state playoffs.
"I've talked to (current Green Wave coach) Sam Sirianni Jr.," Blair said. "They're doing much of the same. It's a quality program, a program that has been a benchmark within Lee County. We're just trying to make sure that we carve out a niche over here in the Cape.
"I want to set a standard. Definitely let people know that over here on the West Coast, past the bridge, that we're doing big things."