FlaVarsity.com has compiled a team of regional experts across the state of Florida. We will introduce each expert during the summer, and we continue with Southwest Florida.
We have a duo of experts to cover the area, and here are the quick biographies of Carl Bleich and RJ Roan.
Carl Bleich is a freelance sports journalist entering his 11th season covering high school football in Southwest Florida. Carl has covered two state championship high school football teams ('04 Immokalee and '07 Naples) and countless Division I athletes since 2004. Carl has written stories for numerous news outlets in the state of Florida including the Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel, Naples Daily News and the Fort Myers News-Press. He also written stories for ESPN and the Associated Press.
RJ Roan graduated from Estero High School in 2007, and has lived in the area nearly his entire life. RJ started covering prep sports for The News-Press in 2009, so this will be his sixth year on assignment in Southwest Florida. His favorite part of watching high school football is watching players grow up and mature from year to year, and cataloguing their success. RJ has been known to be active in live tweeting on football Fridays, whenever he hasn't been put into Twitter jail.
To get ready for high school football this fall, we asked Bleich and Roan several questions about what to watch for in their area.
Who is the top team in your area and why?
CB: The top team in Southwest Florida heading into the preseason is arguably the top program in the area as well. Naples High has won four consecutive district championships and has won its district in 11 out of the past 14 seasons. Naples has made a living off of dominating local competition. The Golden Eagles are 67-11 since 2000 against Collier County competition. Naples' power-running attack has the horses it needs this season in senior quarterback Garrett Zech and junior running backs Max Joseph and Carlin Fils-Aime. The Golden Eagles should breeze to another District 6A-13 championship as they outscored 6A-13 foes 220-21 in four games in 2013 and figure to be better this season. An undefeated regular season likely will hinge on key non-district games with Dunbar, Island Coast and Bradenton Manatee. The Golden Eagles' 2013 season ended with a somewhat surprising 27-19 loss to Palm Bay-Heritage in a Region 6A-4 semifinal game. I would be shocked if Naples is not playing for a Region 6A-4 championship on Thanksgiving weekend.
Who might not be getting enough attention in your area that you think will breakout this season and why?
RR: This is a bit of a strange year in Southwest Florida, as there are several teams trying all to reload at once. The far and away best team in the area is Naples, but after that it is really wide open. The Fort Myers Green Wave missed the postseason despite a 7-3 record last season, and return starting quarterback Dylan DeGroot and running back Terrance Moore going into their senior seasons. DeGroot showed flashes last season, and if the traditionally run-heavy Green Wave can develop a passing attack, they could be a strong team. They'll have a fight on their hands win that district, as defending 7A-11 champion Charlotte is every bit as strong as they were last season, but they could certainly play into November and be a cute spoiler if DeGroot takes a step forward. Naples First Baptist is also a very under the radar team, they don't let a lot of attention playing in Class 2A. With a relatively soft region, they're another team that could make some noise.
Who is the top 2015 prospect in your area? 2016?
CB: There is no clear cut top 2015 prospect in Southwest Florida as there has been in years past but North Fort Myers High defensive lineman Marlon Gonzalez leads a tight race at the top in my opinion. Gonzalez stands 6-foot-4, 255 pounds and is a 3-star prospect that holds offers from the likes of Tennessee, Arizona, Florida State, Boston College and Cincinnati. Gonzalez transferred to North Fort Myers from Cape Coral-Island Coast to play for former Florida Gator and Tampa Bay Buccaneer Earnest Graham in his first year as head coach. Other seniors to watch in Southwest Florida are Island Coast defensive back Ryan Pulley, South Fort Myers athlete Antwan Dixon, Cape Coral-Baker quarterback Sage Attwood, Naples-Lely offensive lineman/defensive lineman Marcus Brown, Punta Gorda-Charlotte offensive lineman Grant Polk, Immokalee offensive lineman Wesley Docsol and Fort Myers-Dunbar athlete Daniel Cobb.
Naples High WR/DB Tyler Byrd is clearly the best 2016 prospect in Southwest Florida in my opinion. Byrd is already committed to the University of Florida and made his share of electrifying plays as both a freshman and a sophomore. Byrd provides Naples with a weapon that most other area schools do not have: an athletic wide receiver that can truly stretch the field. The Golden Eagles run an option-based offense but coach Bill Kramer has always found creative ways to use athletes like Byrd and he will do so again this season.
What will be a key storyline to watch in your area this fall?
RR: The key storyline in this area is what's wrong with Lee County? Despite having the larger population and producing names such as Deion Sanders, Noel Devine, and Sammy Watkins, Lee schools haven't been able to translate that into success at the state level. Naples and Immokalee of Collier have regularly gone deep into the playoffs since the turn of the century, yet there really haven't been any dominant Lee schools to match them. Part of the blame goes on the rapid expansion of Lee schools diluting the talent pool. Since 2005, four new public high schools, and three private have picked up football. Two of those schools, Cape Coral Island Coast, and South Ft. Myers, have seen some success, but it has largely come at the expense of some of the older programs, such as Cape Coral, Ft. Myers, and North Ft. Myers. Can a Lee county school step up and make a splash on the state level, and if so, whom?