With 15 starters returning from a run to the regional finals last season, the Lehigh Lightning have reasons to talk big.
Claiming the toughest district and best offensive line in the state and one of the top running backs in Southwest Florida, second-year coach Pete Fominaya has instilled a bit of a swagger.
Much of that is due to the strength of schedule, Fominaya said. Last year, all four of the Lightning's nondistrict opponents - Ida Baker, Dunbar, Riverdale and Cape Coral - went to the playoffs. Three district opponents - Barron Collier, Lely and Naples - had winning records.
This year's schedule is the same with flipped locations. Ida Baker hosts the Lightning in the opener at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 3.
"We believe that we have one of the toughest schedules in the state and we believe that we have had our success because week in and week out we have one of the toughest teams," Fominaya said.
The players themselves, though, were the key factor, and with so many returning starters that factor largely remains.
Running back Curtavious Thornton is back for his senior year. He rushed for more than 600 yards last year, and Fominaya expects him to be a key player both in games and in practice.
"We feel pretty strongly about him," Fominaya said. "Curtavious is a great leader for us. He works very hard in the weight room and on the practice field. We feel he is going to be one of the great backs in Southwest Florida."
A new face at quarterback is junior Malik Simmons. He was the team's starting free safety last year and hasn't played quarterback since he was on the freshman team.
"He's a dual-threat type of kid," Fominaya said. "He's doing things well, and he's got a great sense of how the game works."
Fominaya said he likes to keep his players on one side of the ball as much as possible, so Simmons likely will not play defensive back this year.
The receiving core will be led by seniors Troy Campbell and Lance Williams. Williams also will see playing time at tight end.
In front of the quarterback, the Lightning have what Fominaya calls "the best offensive line in the state," possessing speed and size.
"We have a combination of both, I think," Fominaya said. "We're big and strong at some positions and athletic at others."
On defense, nose tackle Austin Lias and two of the four linebackers, Corey Robinson and Isaac Reed, take the field for their junior year. With Simmons moving to quarterback, the other three defensive backs return, so there remains some continuity there, as well.
"(Lias) is a force in the middle and we're feeling pretty good about the direction he's taking us in the front," Fominaya said.
Lehigh High School Lightning
Sept. 10 - at Dunbar
Sept. 16 - vs. Riverdale
Sept. 24 - vs. Barron Collier-x
Oct. 1 - vs. Lely-x
Oct. 8 - at Golden Gate-x
Oct. 15 - vs. East Lee County-x
Oct. 29 - at Naples-x
Nov. 5 - at Cypress Lake-x
Nov. 12 - vs. Cape Coral
Head coach: Pete Fominaya ('09), second year (7-6)
Assistants: Israel Gallegos (off. coord.), Todd Nichols (def. coord.), Eric Johns (WR), Joe Skocik (QB), Joe Anderson (RB), John Costello (def. line).
Team Colors: midnight blue & gold
Stadium: Dr. James Adams Memorial Stadium, 901 Gunnery Road, Lehigh Acres
Playoff History: 2002 - Miami Washington 34, Lehigh 14. 2005 - Miami Edison 42, Lehigh 2. 2006 - Miami Jackson 40, Lehigh 0. 2009 - Lehigh 15, Riverdale 7; Lehigh 28, South Ft. Myers 14; Lake Wales 16, Lehigh 0.
Home: 4-2 Away: 3-4 District: 4-1
Ida Baker 27, Lehigh 0
Dunbar 14, Lehigh 13
Riverdale 30, Lehigh 7
Barron Collier 42, Lehigh 18
Lehigh 20, Naples Lely 17
Lehigh 13, Golden Gate 7
Lehigh 21, East Lee 14
Lehigh 34, Naples 14
Lehigh 47, Cypress Lake 0
Cape Coral 28, Lehigh 7
Lehigh 15, Riverdale 7
Lehigh 28, South Ft. Myers 14
Lake Wales 16, Lehigh 0