Canterbury School started a new 11-man football program this year in its middle school. Twenty-four young men endured practices in the heat this past summer in preparation for a tough six-game schedule which started in late August.
Fifteen of the players are eighth graders and are looking forward to playing next year at the high school level at Canterbury, which will switch its varsity program to 11-man. Currently the school is competing in a seven-man program due a lack of players. Last year, the Cougars played in a six-man league and won the state championship. They are undefeated this season.
New head coach Mike Marciano was hired not only to transition the program but also to field competitive teams immediately. Marciano had winning records at each of his previous schools, including another local school in Fort Myers.
"Every day is an exciting challenge as we take the football program to the 11-man level," said Marciano. "The work that Marc Taglieri has done to get us to this point has been instrumental in the foundation of what we have now."
He continued, "The current players along with myself constantly try to represent the Canterbury character in all we do to try and recruit the student body and attract new student athletes. The attitude is positive and within the upcoming years we will make tremendous strides to put a product on the field that will not only compete but make its name in this area and then beyond. As I say to the players and their parents, you're either part of the train or you're in the tracks. Either way, this train is rolling."
Of the 24 players on the middle school team, only two had ever played tackle football previously. Coach Dave Owens started working with the kids in the summer developing a strength and conditioning program. Thanks to the Cougar Athletic Club, the players were able to utilize a brand new state-of-the-art weight room at the school. By August, they were ready to suit up and start hitting.
Although the kids' inexperience showed at the beginning of the first game, Owens settled them down and the team ended up tying a bigger and stronger Southwest Florida Christian Academy squad 28-28.
After a couple of formidable opponents, the kids pulled it all together and beat ECS last week 48-14.
"We started the season with only two boys that had played football," said Owens. "The boys have worked incredibly hard this season and most importantly they have improved. The future is very bright for the Cougar football program."
ECS scored one offensive touchdown.
Canterbury has been known for its strong academic history, but now it is trying even harder to develop some competitive student-athletes. Headmaster Tony Paulus took over the leadership of the school five years ago, and he has always wanted to compete with the other local schools in all sports. The school recently hired Taglieri as its athletic director.
In one year, Taglieri has proven that Canterbury can compete in more than just academics.
"Five years ago I formed an athletic task force that established goals to improve our then-mediocre athletic program," said Paulus. "One of our goals was to reestablish football at Canterbury School. Last year our six-man team was the first team in Lee County to win a state championship in football. With Marc Taglieri's leadership in place and under the direction of (coaches) Marciano and Owens, we are in the process of establishing what I am sure will be a very successful 11-man program, grades 6-12.
"Admittedly, never in my wildest dreams did I think we would have an 11-man program in our middle school. I am very proud of our middle school players for winning their first game of the season, for being the first group of middle school football players ever, and for establishing their permanent legacy."