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Red Knights shoot for elusive playoff spot

August 9, 2017
By CHUCK BALLARO (sports@breezenewspapers.com) , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Last season, the North Fort Myers High School football team did something it hadn't done in a decade - have a winning season.

In the three seasons the Red Knights have played under coach Earnest Graham, they have improved every season, become much more disciplined, and changed the culture.

If ever there was a season for the Red Knights to reach the postseason for the first time since 2006, it's this one. While losing Zaquandre White to graduation is a big blow, Graham anticipates as many as 19 of 22 returnees to be in the starting lineup for the season opener on Aug. 25 against Riverdale.

Graham said this is the most complete team he has had at North, and the players have not been this confident in a long time.

"We're a deeper team. We have kids coming to our program to continue their education. Zaquandre is at Florida State doing that. We can cheer for him on Saturday and use that as motivation," Graham said. "This group is ready to play on the field."

"People have been downing us, so we have a big chip on our shoulder. We have to go out and prove a point this year," senior captain Fa' Najae Gotay said. "We have young players stepping up and that's what you need."

Fact Box

North Fort Myers Red Knights

2017 Schedule

Aug. 18 - at Naples, 7:30 p.m.

x-Aug. 25 - vs. Riverdale, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 1 - vs. Fort Myers, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 8 - at Palmetto Ridge, 7:30 p.m.

x-Sept. 15 - at Island Coast, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 22 - vs. Mariner, 7:30 p.m.

x-Sept. 29 - at Port Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 6 - at Dunbar, 7:30 p.m.

x-Oct. 13 - vs. Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.

x-Oct. 20 - at Ida Baker, 7:30 p.m.

x-Oct. 27 - vs. Cape Coral, 7 p.m.

(x-district)

-----------------

Head Coach: Earnest Graham ('14) 4th year (16-13)

Assistants: Dave Pasquale (Off. Coord./QB), Clint Taunton (QB), Chris Sneddon (OL), Ray Snell (RB), Ed Gant (WR), Kyle Weisman (WR), Tony Covietz (FB/HB/TE), Mack Mitchell (Def. Coord./CB), Joseph Demattia (FS), Scott Ashby (DL), Fred Harley (DL), Ron Kelly (LB).

Team Colors: red, white & black

Stadium: Moody Field, 5000 Orange Grove Blvd., North Fort Myers

Class/District: Dist. 6A-10, Region 3

Playoff History: 1972 - North 41, Tarpon Springs 22; Glades Central 6, North 3 (Semifinals); 1983 - North 26, East Bay 14; Atlantic 6, North 0 (Semifinals); 1985 - Bradenton Southeast 31, North 9; 1986 - North 20, Bradenton Southeast 7; North 35, Fort Pierce Central 21; Fort Lauderdale Dillard 25, North 6 (Sectionals); 1994 - North 20, Jupiter 13; North 50, Jefferson 32; St. Thomas Aquinas 24, North 12 (Semifinals); 1997 - Sarasota Booker 41, North 7; 1998 - DeSoto 28, North 7; 1999 - Ft. Pierce Westwood 34, North 15; 2000 - Cardinal Gibbons 28, North 21. 2006 - North 38, Lakewood Ranch 14; North 23, Largo 19; Bradenton Manatee 20, North 14.

-----------------

2016 Results

Record: 6-3 Dist.: 3-2

Home: 4-1 Away: 2-2

at Riverdale, ccd.

Fort Myers 37, NFM 16

NFM 14, Estero 6

x-NFM 27, Island Coast 10

NFM 34, Mariner, 21

x-Port Charlotte 38, NFM 34

x-Charlotte 24, NFM 21

x-NFM 41, Ida Baker 15

x-NFM 47, Cape Coral 13

NFM 40, Barron Collier 30

(x-district)

Senior Toby Noland, who transferred from Ida Baker, appears to be the starting quarterback for a team that will run a multiple offense. Gotay and Joe Wilkins will be the ones catching the football. Jaheed Marcus, Terry Lindsey and Hunter Koblanski will try to take over where White left off.

"With all the transfers and experience we have, we are better than we've been in the last several years," said Lindsey, who is expected to be a leader as a sophomore. "We have more dedicated players here than in the past."

On the line, which Graham said is a strength, Albert Shilling, Hayden Knighton, Malcomb Battle, Ethan Fortini, Adolphus Taylor and Colton McMullen will be among those expected to open the holes and pass protect.

Defensively, the main emphasis will be to stop the run. Juniors Isaiah Taylor, Jacob Brown and Chris Young will man the defensive front line, with the back seven seen as the heart of the team. Gotay and juniors Hunter Koblanski and Jaidin Brown will lead the experienced linebacking corps. Wilkins and Cameron Howitt will man the corners and Chris Lucas, Lindsey and Jamar Eason play the safeties.

"We only lost a couple of players on defense. We're strong, deep and have a lot of power. There are people you don't hear about, but you'll see them when the game comes," Howitt said. "The only thing that can stop us is ourselves."

Graham said special teams has been a problem in past years. He said he will put special emphasis on that area.

It will be tough in District 6A-10, with state qualifier Charlotte and Port Charlotte always tough, but both teams lost a lot of talent and are expected to be in more a rebuilding mode this season.

Graham said everyone has bought into the culture at North, especially those who have been there since freshman year. It will be that experience, he said, that will make the difference.

"Most people look at the bigger things and naturally when you take over something you have to put your stamp on it and build a culture. It's a process, and we've been loyal to the process and so have the kids," Graham said. "The only reason we haven't gone to the playoffs is because we have one of the toughest districts. I'm proud of that and we're going to win it this year. This is our time."

The Red Knights travel to Naples on Aug. 18 for a preseason classic.

 
 
 

 

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