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Lehigh area football teams look to rebound

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Aug 9, 2021

Lehigh Acres is looking ahead to a new year in football.

Teams all over the state had their seasons interrupted last season by COVID, making coaching and playing very difficult. Among Lehigh’s three high schools, only Lehigh Senior High won a playoff game last season when everyone made the playoffs.

But the great thing about all practice is that hope springs eternal. Teams returned to the field this week to get ready for the season that begins with the Kickoff Classic on Aug. 20.

Riverdale Raiders

At Riverdale, they are not worried about what happened last year (2-6), but rather looking forward to this season, according to head coach James Delgado, who believes he has a team that will have something to show.

“We’ve been working our butts off and I’m grateful for the opportunity to work together, grow together. It’s a very special group, one of the most enjoyable groups I’ve ever coached,” Delgado said, who saw only 11 players graduate, making for an experienced team this year.

The Raiders will find out very quickly what they’re made of, with North Fort Myers, Dunbar and Immokalee kicking off the season and Port Charlotte later in the season.

District 7A-12 will include Immokalee, Lehigh, North Port and Palmetto Ridge, which means the Raiders are going to have to bring it every Friday night.

“We’re focused on being better tomorrow than today and then we’ll get ready for the Kickoff Classic with Bishop Verot,” Delgado said. “I try to keep it one week at a time.”

Brody Dorsey, quarterback, said Riverdale is going to throw the ball more this season and create a more balanced attack. Romeo McKnight and Jaheim Clarke will be his targets.

McKnight said that the senior leadership, all a year older and a year wiser, could make a big difference.

“We want to bring positivity to the team and bring up the younger guys. We want to make the younger guys better in the weight room, become leaders on and off the field,” McKnight said.

“We need to give 100 percent on the field and in the classroom. We’re hard working and more confident than last year,” Clarke said.

East Lee Jaguars

At East Lee, the team has only improvement ahead after a winless season (0-9), including a loss in the playoffs to Charlotte.

There is an opportunity for the team to catch up very quickly. There’s a new head coach in Peter Gibbs for a Jaguar team that brings back many players who were freshmen and sophomores last year.

“There were a lot of guys trying to get the flow of the game, not knowing what’s going on and trying to pick up what the coaches are teaching,” assistant coach Hervans Paul said. “Everything was unfamiliar.”

This year there is a new feeling, and not only has everyone bought into Gibbs’ system, but other people have come in wanting to play for the black and teal, as Gibbs was a defensive coordinator at Palmetto Ridge and Naples, teams with great defenses.

“More kids and coming up and buying in and putting in the work,” said Chris Compere, senior back and receiver, who comes to East Lee from Immokalee.

Sophomore Victor Georges said thanks to the new coach, the game has slowed down and the players seem to know what they’re doing.

“We have more things we want to achieve. Coach Gibbs is serious and he tells it like it is, expects more attention to detail and he’s specific on assignments,” Georges said. “The guys have a clear perspective on what they’re being coached.”

East Lee will be in District 6A-14 with Lely, Golden Gate, South Fort Myers, Barron Collier and Naples.

“I think we’ve created a new culture and it’s reflecting on the players. Some kids last year wouldn’t show up for practice some days. Attendance has been great this summer in the weight room and conditioning,” Paul said. “Kids feel they have to meet that expectation.”

Lehigh Lightning

Lehigh (5-5) had to roll with the punches last year to reach the second round of the playoffs. This year head coach James Chaney said the team had a great summer workout and is ready to improve on its record, while taking precautions to keep players safe.

“COVID affected us. We couldn’t use the weight room during the off-season. Now we can go in and out and there aren’t as many restrictions, but we’re still being careful about it,” senior Alex Gonzalez said

The Lightning will have a tough schedule against the likes of Fort Myers, North Fort Myers, Palmetto Ridge and Dunbar at the end of the season.

Being in District 7A-12, Chaney knows his team is not going to have many easy outs.

“Nobody has an easy schedule in Southwest Florida. We’re playing my alma mater, North Fort Myers, to start the season. We aren’t going to play against the Miami teams we’re used to playing, but we’ll be playing tough teams locally,” Chaney said.

Byron Harris will take over as quarterback, signaling a change from a pocket passer to one who can run the read option. There will also be guys like Rick Beck and Gerald Blue getting the ball, with Julian Alcaraz leading the offensive line.

“We’re a run first team and the last two years we had a quarterback who couldn’t run the ball. Now, we have one who can and I’m excited about what we can do,” Chaney said. “I prefer an athletic quarterback who can run.”