You sense it in practice, you sense it in the players' swagger. This is a different North Fort Myers football team than it was just two or three years ago.
That can be attributed to a new head coach, former Mariner and NFL player Earnest Graham, who has brought instant credibility to the program and an expectation of accountability it hasn't had in years.
"We have a new level of paying attention to detail, intensity in practice and focus," said senior captain Jake Duff. "We play with a sense of urgency and get after it."
North Fort Myers senior Marlon Gonzalez is expected be a big part of the Red Knight defense this season after transferring from Island Coast High School.
Following consecutive winless seasons, the Red Knights improved to 3-7 last year, sneaking up on the likes of Dunbar and Mariner, but losing tough ones to Bishop Verot and Cape Coral.
Graham says there is a fine line between winning and losing, and that's the small things he plans to teach.
"I inherited a tough program. We could have been a five- or six-win team. They came out and played tough," Graham said. "I'm just trying to add to that. I'm a first-year coach, but I have knowledge from a player perspective."
North Fort Myers
Aug. 29 - vs. Braden River, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 5 - at Fort Myers, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 12 - vs. Gulf Coast, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 19 - at Mariner, 7:30 p.m.-x
Sept. 26 - at Cape Coral, 7:30 p.m.-x
Oct. 2 - vs. Cypress Lake, 7:30 p.m.-x
Oct. 10 - at Island Coast, 7:30 p.m.-x
Oct. 24 - vs. Lemon Bay, 7:30 p.m.-x
Oct. 31 - vs. Dunbar, 7:30 p.m.-x
Nov. 7 - at Bishop Verot, 7:30 p.m.
- Head Coach: Earnest Graham ('14), 1st year
- Assistants: Mike Spencer (DC); Mike Duff (OC); Ed Gant (WR); Shannon Royal (QB); Scott Ashby (OL); Todd Sheridan (LB); Javier Acosta (special teams); James Chancey (DL); Roger Phillips (DB); Mack Mitchell (CB/JV); Barry Goettemoeller (OT/TE); Jose Santiago (frosh).
- Team Colors: red, white & black
- Stadium: Moody Field, 5000 Orange Grove Blvd., North Fort Myers
- Class/District: 5A-14
- Playoff History: 1972 - North 41, Tarpon Springs 22; Glades Central 6, North 3 (Semifinals); 1983 - North 26, East Bay 14; Atlantic 6, North 0 (Semifinals); 1985 - Bradenton Southeast 31, North 9; 1986 - North 20, Bradenton Southeast 7; North 35, Fort Pierce Central 21; Fort Lauderdale Dillard 25, North 6 (Sectionals); 1994 - North 20, Jupiter 13; North 50, Jefferson 32; St. Thomas Aquinas 24, North 12 (Semifinals); 1997 - Sarasota Booker 41, North 7; 1998 - DeSoto 28, North 7; 1999 - Ft. Pierce Westwood 34, North 15; 2000 - Cardinal Gibbons 28, North 21. 2006 - North 38, Lakewood Ranch 14; North 23, Largo 19; Bradenton Manatee 20, North 14.
Home: 1-4 Away: 2-3 Dist: 3-3
Braden River 28, North 3
Fort Myers 28, North 7
Gulf Coast 21, North 12
x-North 42, Mariner 21
x-Cape Coral 7, North 5
x-North 47, Cypress Lake 26
x-Island Coast 45, North 6
x-Lemon Bay 55, North 7
x-North 21, Dunbar 20
Bishop Verot 10, North 9
Graham said the offense won't be too different from years past, a pro-style with an emphasis on the run. That's why he put extensive focus on the offensive line, almost at the expense of the rest of the offense.
Jeff Tumbarello will start at center, Austin Nipper at guard with Quentin Palmer at left tackle.
"That's the heart and soul of our team. By the end of the season, I'd like to have the best line in the area," Graham said. "It's going to be fun to watch them."
While nothing is set in stone, senior Jake Duff looks like the starting QB and strong safety, though he could play virtually everywhere else, Graham said.
Eric Russow, LaQuandre White, Louis Alphonso, Zachary St. Amand and others are battling for the tailback position. Brandon King, Joe Wilkins and J.D. Crouch will line up at receiver.
Defensive coordinator Mike Spencer will run mostly a nickel scheme with teams running more spread formations.
Cole Shuker should be a standout at linebacker, while Marlon Gonzalez, a transfer from Island Coast, could be the best player in the area at defensive end and tight end.
"With the inexperience we have in the backfield, we need the line to put pressure on the quarterback," Spencer said.
Kaleb Beneziak, Sean Howard and Gonzalez will man the front. Tucker Sheridan will play linebacker, but the secondary is young and not deep.
Ken Kearse and Tyler Brooks, Eric Dorsey and Duff should lead the backfield, with White, Hank Gentile and David Vogel in the mix.
North has a tough schedule that includes District 5A-14 powers Dunbar, Cape Coral, Island Coast and Lemon Bay. Graham said his team has little time to raise its football IQ from now until then.
If they do, stay healthy and learn to close out games in the fourth quarter, the Red Knights could see its first playoff berth since 2006.
"We're finishers now, so we're taught to finish games. We don't get tired. We're the most in shape team in the county," Duff said. "We have the skills to do it. We just have to trust each other and play hard."