Weather, injuries mar SWFL HS football so far this season

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The lightning that’s run roughshod over Friday nights isn’t a reference to the area’s stable of dynamic running backs. And it has nothing to do with the Lightning from Lehigh Senior High School.

Instead, it’s lightning of the literal sort that has prompted delays, postponements and cancellations that have become perhaps the most dominant story in Southwest Florida high school football midway through the 2016 regular season.

“It’s been horrible,” said longtime Charlotte High School coach Binky Waldrop. “We’ve had three games already that have started two hours late, minimum.”

Other schools have had to push their games to another day or call them off entirely. And it’s not just games that are affected. Practice schedules have also been disrupted.

“You’re inside one day, you’re outside the next,” Waldrop said. “There’s no continuity with what you’re doing.”

Part of it has to do with poor weather luck, and part of it has to do with a more vigilant approach to lightning safety. It all adds up to a changing approach for some teams.

A bolt of lightning was visible Sept. 23 during Mariner's loss to North Fort Myers.
Lightning, like this bolt of lightning visible during Mariner’s Sept. 23 loss to North Fort Myers, has been a frequent sight at football stadiums across Southwest Florida this season.

“It makes it very, very hard to plan a practice,” said Port Charlotte coach Jordan Ingman. “We’ve had to restructure our practices based off of the importance of some drills to make sure that if we do get on the field, we get our most important stuff in first.”

The amped-up nature of football makes it especially challenging for players who have to mentally prepare for a game or a practice that might not happen.

“You just hope the weather levels off and you get to get outside and you get a regular routine going with what you’re doing,” Waldrop said.

Disruptions are becoming a new normal of sorts.

“Honestly, it happens to us so much in practice with the lightning horn that we have in Charlotte County that we get run off the field all the time,” Ingman said. “So, our kids are used to having to transition mentally from the gym to having to turn it back on once the horn goes all clear.”

It’s not just the weather that’s kept Ingman’s Pirates off the field. Threats of violence led to the postponement of the team’s scheduled Sept. 16 game against Cape Coral. They made it up the following Monday.

“Last Friday night was the first game we started on a Friday night, on time, this year, including the Kickoff Classic,” Ingman said.

The risk for lightning remains as summer weather patterns continue into the first official week of fall, meaning the 7:30 p.m. start time for Port Charlotte’s game on Friday against North Fort Myers — and all the other games scheduled that night across Southwest Florida — should be written in pencil, not ink.

Football stars White, Felix struggle with injuries

Fort Myers star running back Darrian Felix watches his team lose 24-6 to Charlotte without him Sept. 23. He sat out with a blood clot in his elbow.

North Fort Myers running back Zaquandre White spoke about his plan to break records this season before he heads off to Florida State as one of the jewels of their 2017 recruiting class. Fort Myers running back Darrian Felix said he wanted to be “electrifying” this year coming off a summer in which he attended a prestigious Nike-run national showcase.

So far, aside from brief glimpses, two of Southwest Florida’s biggest stars haven’t been as dazzling as expected.

Neither was particularly impressive in the week 2 clash between their teams. White rushed for just 60 yards on 14 carries while Felix, slowed by a groin injury, posted just 56 yards on 14 runs.

Injuries have played a key role in their performances since. White sprained his left ankle early in the Red Knights’ week 3 win against Estero and didn’t gain a yard on the ground during limited action that night. He returned with a vintage 14-carry, 165-yard performance against Island Coast the next week but slumped to 51 yards on 11 carries last week against Mariner.

Felix struggled against South Fort Myers in week 4, totaling 38 yards on nine carries before exiting with what turned out to be a blood clot in his elbow just before halftime. The injury forced him to miss the Green Wave’s 24-6 loss to Charlotte last week.

Felix is slated to return this week against Lehigh, Fort Myers coach Sam Sirianni Jr. said, indicating that he’ll be 100 percent. Still, whether he can get back to the form he exhibited in a 26-carry, 201-yard outburst against Palmetto in the season-opener remains to be seen.

White remains less than 100 percent, North Fort Myers coach Earnest Graham said, but he’s set to take the field Friday for North Fort Myers in a key district game against Port Charlotte.

South Fort Myers rallies through turmoil

Austin Smith (7), Jeshaun Jones (6) and the South Fort Myers Wolfpack have persevered to run their record to 5-0.
Austin Smith (7), Jeshaun Jones (6) and the South Fort Myers Wolfpack have persevered to run their record to 5-0.

The bar is always high at South Fort Myers, where the Wolfpack haven’t lost a district game since 2012. But a down year this season would have been understandable after a sex scandal-plagued summer that culminated in the removal of popular head coach Anthony Dixon three days before the Kickoff Classic.

Weather scrubbed that exhibition game, but since then, the breaks have all gone South’s way. The Wolfpack is 5-0, including an impressive win against the injury-hobbled Felix and Fort Myers in Week 4.

It hasn’t been easy for interim coach Matthew Holderfield’s team, which has only won by more than a single possession one time — an 18-6 victory over Cape Coral in week 2. The Wolfpack’s last three wins have come by a total of 11 points, and they had to rally from a 14-0 deficit against Dunbar last week.

Holderfield has received no promises of keeping his job beyond this season, and Dixon’s reinstatement as a district employee leaves the door open for his return next season. Tenuous as Holderfield’s position may be, and as close as his team has danced with defeat, South’s interim coach has guided his team through an ugly stretch of off-the-field distractions with an unblemished record.

Naples, Charlotte remain on collision course

Quarterback Jordan Persad-Tirone is one of several new starters this year for Naples, which has kept up its winning tradition.
Quarterback Jordan Persad-Tirone is one of several new starters this year for Naples, which has kept up its winning tradition.

Naples drilled Charlotte 35-0 in the Region 6A-3 final last year, but only five full-time starters returned from last year’s Golden Eagle team that made the state semifinals.

No matter. Naples is 4-0 this season, just like the Tarpons, who boasted 18 seniors among their 22 starters at the beginning of this season.

“I’m pleasantly surprised with our team speed and physicality… It’s fun to watch,” said Bill Kramer, Naples’ head coach.

Still, it’s not as if the Golden Eagles haven’t endured growing pains. They outscored their first three opponents 152-39, but the 42 points they gave up in a shootout win against Immokalee were the most they’ve relinquished in a game since Kramer took over the program in 1998.

“Immokalee always plays us like a family member’s being held hostage,” Kramer said. “We always get their best effort.”

Naples, as ever, was quick to correct its mistakes. Immokalee didn’t complete a pass in the second half after racking up 267 yards through the air in the first half.

“We have really good coaches and players that listen to them,” Kramer said.

Charlotte also accelerated in the second half last week, turning a slight 10-6 halftime lead at Fort Myers into a 24-6 rout by game’s end. Waldrop knows he has a long way to go to get another shot at winning the region this year, and he’s searching for more consistency, but he said Monday that he’s pleased with the way his experienced team has played thus far.

“They’ve been down that road before,” he said. “It’s no stranger to us. We know what it takes to get there.”


Less than a year after former Clewiston lineman Tyrell Taylor was killed in the Fort Myers Zombicon shooting, tragedy struck the Tigers a second time.

Senior wide receiver/defensive back Devon Jackson suffered a traumatic brain injury Sept. 9, the date of Clewiston’s loss to Fort Pierce Central. It’s not exactly when Jackson was hurt, but his family believes it stemmed from a hit he took on the field that night.

Jackson collapsed on the bus ride home. He underwent brain surgery the next morning and was placed in a medically induced coma.

He was released from the hospital last week and has begun a regimen of physical, occupational and speech therapy. Still, it’s unlikely he’ll ever play football again.

Coach Pete Walker paid homage in last week’s game against Pahokee, the team’s first since Jackson was hurt. Walker said he would award Jackson’s No. 4 jersey to the player who had the best week of practice, which turned out to be fellow senior Jadan Thompson.

Jackson’s supporters created the social media tag #Cheering4Devon to spread word and share updates on his condition, and they’ve raised more than $1,500 toward a goal of $5,000 through a GoFundMe page.

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