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Lehigh prep football teams gearing up

By Staff | Aug 7, 2019

Lehigh Senior High School football coach James Chaney speaks with the media surrounded by several of his players Tuesday at the Lee County Public Schools building. CHUCK BALLARO

Last week, the coaches and the key players from Lehigh Senior, Riverdale and East Lee high schools participated in media day at the Lee County Public Schools building as the teams kicked off fall practice.

The three teams had varying levels of success last season. with Riverdale having the greatest success.

The Raiders had a perfect regular season before losing in the first round of playoffs.

James Delgado, Riverdale head coach, said they were disappointed how the season ended, but hopeful they can build on that with many players returning.

“We have a lot of seniors who got a lot of time, and we’re counting on underclassmen to step up in new roles, which is exciting,” Delgado said. “Going undefeated in the regular season has never been our goal. Doing it in the postseason is.”

Having new guys stepping into new roles will be a challenge. Riverdale will also have a different schedule than last year. Lehigh, Gulf Coast and North Port will be in their District 7A-11 schedule and, with the Raiders starting off with Dunbar, North Fort Myers and Charlotte, Delgado knows his team will have to bring it every Friday night.

“There are no breaks in the schedule and no stops in between especially in District play,” said Delgado, whose team uses a single-wing offense, where several players can be used to run or throw, as players did 100 years ago.

Ball carriers Mark Cesar, Derrion Herron and Raekwon Clark, linebackers Robert Midgett, Clay Best and lineman Kendrick Taylor will provide the leadership for the younger guys.

“Our goal is to get five yards and run teams down,” Clark said. “We just bring it and want to dominate.”

East Lee went 0-10 last season with a very young team, the third time that has happened since winning the district in 2012.

Second-year head Coach Johnny Brown said his goal is to develop the players he has, put them in situations where they can succeed, and make sure other teams don’t see them on the schedule and mark them off as a win.

“We had a lot of young kids who never played varsity football before. This year we plan on winning some ball games,” Brown said. “I love coaching these kids. They are dedicated and committed and that’s what I like.”

Brown said if they block and tackle and execute, they should have success. That first big hurdle will be to get that first win. The Jaguars kick off their season against newcomer Bonita Springs, which could give them that opportunity. Ida Baker and Island Coast are other teams they could hang with.

“I want the kids to enjoy that feeling and realize their hard work is paying off,” Brown said.

Brown’s son, Johnny III, will handle the quarterback duties as a junior, while Thailand Carrey and Tony Marcelon will be among his favorite targets and likely playing both ways.

“Last year was my first year and I was just trying to adapt to the team. It was so much faster. I worked hard this summer and I want it to show this season,” Brown said. “I don’t want interceptions or to take any sacks.”

Lehigh went 6-4 but did well enough to earn a playoff berth.

Fifth-year head coach James Chaney has seen the Lightning steadily improve under his watch after years of mediocrity, and his goal is to continue that improvement.

“We have to eat the elephant one teaspoon at a time. We try to get 1 percent better every day,” Chaney said.

The team needs to get on the ball fast, as it has a killer schedule to start the season. Coconut Creek will be their Kickoff Classic opponent, and open the season at Booker T. Washington of Miami, followed by Dunbar, then two road games with Clearwater Academy International, and regional champion Naples.

“Our first five games will be the toughest schedule in the state of Florida. We want to challenge our kids and not play teams we know we can beat,” Chaney said. “We want to be ready for our rivals and the playoffs and tough competition makes that happen.”

After a tough, strength-intensive summer program, Chaney believes the team is up to the task.

Chaney is counting on a mix of youth and experience to bring the team success this year, with one of the foundations being freshman Richard Young, a running back and linebacker who Chaney said he will bring up slowly.

“Richard is an athlete we get here all the time. He’s been here the whole summer with us. We know what he can do,” Chaney said. “We will develop him to be one of the great athletes to come out of here.”

Three-year starter Zach Jean-Louis will highlight the offensive line, while Jake Chaney will captain the defense at linebacker. Omarion Cooper will play both ways at wide receiver and defensive back along with Tar-varish Dawson, who will be relied upon to lead this up-tempo, no-huddle offense.

“We have a lot of great players, but we have to bring it all in mentally. We need to make sure the seniors are leading,” Chaney said.