After another disappointing year of football at Estero High School, the Wildcats and third-year head coach Rick Dombrowski seem to have things pointing the right direction heading into the season.
When Dombrowski took over the program after going 0-9 in 2007, the Wildcats faced many hurdles - from new school openings drawing from their pool of players, to a depressed attitude toward the school's football in general, leading to low student turnouts for team tryouts - but with almost 90 athletes in this year's program, Dombrowski looks for a way back to respectability.
"It's the most we've had since I've been the head coach here," said Dombrowski. "My whole philosophy (rebuilding the program) is to keep 20 to 25 kids a grade level. That way, I can have 80 to 100 kids in the program. For the last couple of years I have been coach, we've been able to keep 20 to 25 kids in each grade which has helped us toward that goal."
With more kids in the program comes more experience as they work their way up from freshman to varsity teams. With several incoming freshmen this year measuring at over 6-foot, Dombrowski has higher expectations than just one win in 2010.
"We are setting the bar a little higher this year," said Dombrowski. "We are being a little more demanding on them through conditioning and the weight room. If the practice is hard, we expect to play hard and we can expect to win 2, 3 or 4 games this year."
After averaging 21 points a game last year, Estero has the most important pieces of its offense returning in junior quarterback Ryan Sides and big-play junior receiver Justin Milcetich.
On defense, where the Wildcats struggled the most last season, they return five starters, including defensive leader Mason Hayes at middle linebacker.
"We have lost a lot of size on defense from last year's graduating class," said Dombrowski. "We feel that if the new guys can rally around our five returning guys we shouldn't be giving up almost 50 points a game this season, like we did last year."
Both Dombrowski and the players are looking forward most to their meeting with the South Fort Myers Wolfpack.
Six years ago, when South opened its doors, the Wolfpack took many of the best football talent away from Estero, helping lead the program to its rapid downward spiral.
"Both myself and the kids in my program are really looking forward to that game," Dombrowski said of the season- and home opener on Sept. 3.
"This year, I expect us to give them a run for their money and keep it close, if not pull off the upset."
Estero High School Wildcats
Sept. 3 - vs. South Fort Myers
Sept. 10 - at St. John Neumann
Sept. 16 - vs. Lemon Bay
Oct. 1 - vs. North Fort Myers
Oct. 8 - vs. DeSoto County-x
Oct. 15 - at Fort Myers
Oct. 22 - at Hardee County-x
Nov. 5 - vs. Immokalee-x
Nov. 12 - at Cypress Lake
Head Coach: Rich Dombrowski, third year (1-19)
Assistants: Calvin Hudgins (off. coord./QB), Tim Copeland (off. line), Brian Fitzgerals (WR), Joe Skladany (RB), Steve Fisher (def. line), Mike Sturgis (LB), Curtis Harris (DB)
Team Colors: Navy blue, white & red
Stadium: Wildcats Stadium, 21900 River Ranch Drive, Estero
Playoff History: 1993 - Fort Pierce Central 27, Estero 17; 1998 - Estero 19, South Fork 18; Estero 20, South Plantation 19; Estero 28, Charlotte 24 (Regional); Estero 15, Lakeland 14 (Semifinal); Osceola 28, Estero 10 (5A Championship); 1999 - Estero 14, Centennial 10; St. Thomas Aquinas 52, Estero 0; 2000 - Estero 32, Jupiter 20; St. Thomas Aquinas 32, Estero 10; 2001 - Estero 35, Miami Washington 15; Estero 38, Lakewood Ranch 12; St. Thomas Aquinas 21, Estero 17.
Home: 1-4 Away: 0-5 District: 0-3
South Fort Myers 52, Estero 6
Estero 44, St. John Neumann 22
Lemon Bay 56, Estero 35
Palmetto Ridge 51, Estero 8
North Fort Myers 42, Estero 9
DeSoto County 61, Estero 27
Fort Myers 31, Estero 11
Hardee County 63, Estero 0
Immokalee 43, Estero 35
Cypress Lake 43, Estero 37