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Spring football games
Thursday, May 17
Evangelical Christian at Estero, 7 p.m.
Friday, May 18
St. John Neumann at Miami-Dade Christian, 6 p.m.
Wednesday, May 23
Gulf Coast at Lely, 7 p.m.
Palmetto Ridge at LaBelle, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 24
Community School at Clearwater-Calvary Christian, 7 p.m.
Clewiston at Immokalee, 7 p.m.
Friday, May 25
Fort Myers at Barron Collier, 7 p.m.
Golden Gate at South Fort Myers, 7 p.m.
Bradenton-Braden River at Naples, 7:30 p.m.
Pembroke Pines-Somerset Academy at First Baptist, 7:30 p.m.
NAPLES — The first day of May marks the start of spring football practice in Florida and the enthusiasm and excitement that comes with a new season.
As football players across the state hit the field once school gets out Tuesday, a handful of local teams have added reason for optimism. Four Collier County schools hope to start off in the right direction as they try to turn their programs around under the direction of new head coaches.
“I’m excited for the kids because it’s an opportunity to start fresh,” new Gulf Coast coach Pete Fominaya said. “It’s an opportunity to lay their own foundation for the start of a new program.”
Fominaya will be joined by Barron Collier’s Dan Pallante, Lely’s Stacey Stewart and Palmetto Ridge’s Ryan Mitchell as the four new coaches host their first official practices.
For Fominaya and Stewart, spring ball is the first chance to begin restoring pride to their alma maters. The coaches took over their former teams after Gulf Coast and Lely combined to win just three games last season.
Tuesday’s practice will be even more special for Stewart because it will be his first as a head coach. Fominaya, a former assistant at Naples, coached Lehigh the past three seasons.
“I’m excited that my first head coach job gets to be at my alma mater,” Stewart said. “I don’t know a lot of people who get to do that. I’ve had opportunities over the years to be a head coach, but it wasn’t the right situation.”
Stewart and Fominaya say they’re looking to build consistent winners. To do that, both coaches want to change the culture and attitude around their programs.
The new coaches have focused on offseason weight programs, and have been able to get to know players once they got on staff at their new schools. Fominaya came over from Lehigh shortly after being hired, and now teaches social studies at Gulf Coast. Stewart was an assistant at Camden County (Ga.), where he was part of two state titles, before joining the physical education department at Lely.
“We’re trying to build a program here at Lely High School, not just have a good team now and again,” Stewart said. “That’s something we had here before I left (after graduation in 1987). The kids are excited to be part of that, and I’m honored to be the coach that gets to lead them.”
Teams can only wear helmets and run non-contact drills the first three days of practice. Players can wear full pads and go full contact the rest of the month. Teams get 20 practices in the month of May and one spring game at the end of the month.
With just a few weeks to install offenses and defenses before the summer, coaches say it’s important to get their players and staffs on the same page from Day 1.
“The tone you have to set is your level of expectation,” said Pallante, who takes over Barron Collier after two years as the Cougars’ defensive coordinator. “If you settle for anything less than perfection, you’re going to be in trouble. All we ask for every day is 100 percent. nothing more, nothing less. Do your best, take care of the effort and attitude, and everything else should fall into place.”