James Hale showed a vast repertoire of sideline poses.
He stood with hands on hips. He paced with arms folded. He glared with a coach's whistle between his lips. And sometimes, he caught the glance of whoever was nearby and simply shrugged.
But no matter the posture he portrayed and regardless of concerns caused by the 58-7 thrashing his Mariner Tritons took in a preseason game Friday against South Fort Myers the veteran coach took pains not to rattle the psyche of the young players surrounding him for the first time.
Mariner senior quarterback Jonah Markovits rolls out during the Tritons' game against South Fort Myers Friday night.
"We want to play to a standard," Hale said. "We told them, 'Don't play the scoreboard. Don't play to the clock. Just play the best you can. Play with a lot of class. Play with a lot of pride and a lot of determination and just get better every single day.'"
Given the one-sidedness of the debut, there's certainly room for the latter.
"That's what we can control," he said. "We can't control what the other team does, but we can control what we do, and that's what we're focused on trying to improve and get better. They've got to gain some kind of confidence. They haven't had confidence here in a long time."
The 51-point defeat came in Hale's return to a coaching position in the city where he'd guided Cape Coral High School for nine seasons and won 51 games including 12 in 1993. He left the area for Panama City at Arnold High School, where his teams won 80 times in 13 seasons.
Mariner, under coach Chris Siner, was 3-7 in 2012 and dropped seven of eight after a 2-0 start.
Upon finding his way back to Lee County, the difficulty of Hale's latest rebuilding task was quickly made apparent by a South Fort Myers team that won 10 of 12 games last season, including four shutouts and three more games where foes were held to single digits.
The Wolfpack received the opening kickoff and drove the field for a touchdown, recovered a fumble on the ensuing kick and scored one play later, then made it 21-0 with a four-play, 55-yard march capped by junior Ivan Vargas' 41-yard dash down the left sideline.
By the time the first quarter ended, it was 30-0.
The mettle of Hale's youth-sopped team was undergoing its first live test.
"I've done it 30-something years, and you can only do what you can do," he said. "We don't have the foot-speed of the other team. We're not as big and physical. We've just got to keep a good attitude and keep being positive and good things will happen."
South Fort Myers extended the edge to 44-0 with two more quick scores in the second quarter before the Tritons' best moment of the night, which came when sophomore quarterback Brandon Houston rolled to his right and went deep down the middle to James Bartolotta, who hauled in the pass for a 56-yard touchdown with 3:47 to go in the half.
Dalton Beyer made the extra-point kick and the Tritons' defense forced its lone three-and-out, allowing Hale to reach the intermission on a high note, which he'll be sure to remind his players in the week leading to the regular season opener at Estero next Friday.
"You try to build on something. You take something out of it all and make it a positive," Hale said. "They're really good kids. I think they have good character. I think they want to do well. It's going to get better. It'll get better."
South Fort Myers 3 14 7 7 - 58
Mariner 0 7 0 0 - 7
SFM - Kelly 2 run (Lewis kick)
SFM - Dailidonis 25 pass from Kelly (Lewis kick)
SFM - Vargas 41 run (Lewis kick)
SFM - Safety, ball snapped out of end zone
SFM - Phillips 10 run (Lewis kick)
SFM - Phillips 7 run (Lewis kick)
SFM - Dawson 22 run (Lewis kick)
M - Bartolotta 56 pass from Houston (Riccardi kick)
SFM - Philander 36 run (Lewis kick)
SFM - Peer 38 run (Lewis kick)