Fresh off their first playoff appearance a year ago, the Ida Baker Bulldogs now know what it takes to get there, and they are itching to go back again.
"In meetings we've talked about the possibility of competing for the district championship," said Bulldogs coach Brian Conn. "We can do that, and we can build upon what we did last year. We're trying to reload, not rebuild."
It's tough not to use one of those "R" words when you lose 22 senior players to graduation, and have just five starters returning from a squad that was the district runner-up and had a program-best 8-3 record overall.
Senior Prince Holloway will be catching a lot of passes for the Seahawks this season.
"We won't have many seniors this year," said Conn. "I think we have more depth this year than last. Our defense was great last year and though we don't have a lot of experience it should be solid again as always."
Conn, 19-32 as he starts his sixth year guiding the Bulldogs, believes the program is on the fast track to respectability.
"It doesn't feel like six short years," Conn said. "Expectations have been set not only for the players, but the coaches as well. I feel good about where we are at."
The Bulldogs will have five games under their belts before they get to their District 4A-12 rivals. Five tough games, including the opener Sept. 3 at home against Lehigh, which won seven of its last nine games to go 7-6 and lost in the regional finals a year ago.
"We only have three district games, so you can't afford to get behind," said Conn.
The first district game is Oct. 8 at Gulf Coast. Then it's Palmetto Ridge two weeks after that and finishing up at home against defending district champion Cape Coral on Nov. 5.
Leading the Bulldogs' offense is third-year starting quarterback Sean Francis. In the backfield the senior signal-caller can turn to runningback Brandon Cruz, who filled in when senior speedster Joseph Byrd went down with an injury.
"Brandon doesn't have a lot of carries at the varsity level," said Conn. "He's a bit undersized (5-foot-5, 125 pounds), but he is quick and shifty as a runner."
The other three returning starters include offensive lineman Bryan Keane and defensive lineman Tae Kim, both seniors, and junior center Dakota Matz.
"We'd like to be as balanced on offense as we can," said Conn. "Probably a lot like last year 60-40 toward the run."
Hoping to make an impact sufficient to propel the Bulldogs toward their goal of winning a district title are newcomers Dakota Moore (TE/DE), Dylan Placher (T), Cecil Fitch (WR/DB), Chris Bartos (LB), Jeremy Betts (FB/LB) and Brian Johnson (DL).
"We will have quite a few guys play both sides of the ball," said Conn.
Ida Baker High School Bulldogs
Sept. 3 - vs. Lehigh
Sept. 10 - at North Fort Myers
Sept. 16 - at Island Coast
Sept. 24 - vs. Lakewood Ranch
Oct. 1 - at North Port
Oct. 8 - at Gulf Coast-x
Oct. 15 - vs. South Fort Myers
Oct. 22 - vs. Palmetto Ridge-x
Nov. 5 - vs. Cape Coral-x
Nov. 12 - at Mariner
Head Coach: Brian Conn (sixth year, 19-32)
Assistants: Dwayne Mack (DC), Brad Seiss (DB), Fernando Vazquez (LB, JV), Scott Griffith (DL), Wayne Lesher (DE), Brendan Kent (QB), Anthony Farinello (WR), Bobby Boye (RB), Aaron Quaintance (OL), Danny Holloway (fr.), Dean Brown (fr.), John Honohan (fr.), Craig Crouthamel (fr.), Ashley Underhill (ath. trainer)
Team Colors: Black, blue & silver
Stadium: 3500 Agualinda Blvd.
Playoff History: 2009 - Charlotte 27, Ida Baker 7.
Home: 5-0 Away: 3-3 District: 2-1
Baker 27, Lehigh 0
Baker 36, North Fort Myers 0
Baker 20, Island Coast 3
Baker 37, Lakewood Ranch 8
Baker 48, North Port 0
Baker 48, Gulf Coast 7
South Fort Myers 40, Baker 20
Baker 28, Palmetto Ridge 7
Cape Coral 25, Baker 0
Baker 28, Mariner 21
Charlotte 27, Baker 7