Like all schools in Florida, the clocks at Cypress Bay High School run on Eastern Standard Time.
But the football team?
“They’re supposed to be on Coach G time,” Lightning head coach Mark Guandolo scowled from inside his office.
“That means be on the field 10 to 15 minutes early and ready to go at 8 a.m. And they weren’t. So I ran the [heck] out of them... if we’re going to do something special, this is the year to do it. But we’re not off to a good start.”
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Monday was the first official practice date in football, girls’ volleyball, golf and swimming and diving for high school teams throughout Florida.
But for the Cypress Bay football team –which returns six starters on each side of the ball from an 8-4 squad that lost to Miramar 23-7 in the second round of the playoffs last year – Monday’s first practice was a lot like an offseason conditioning workout. It was running, followed by more running and more running after that, as rainy weather kept players and coaches soaked throughout two hours’ worth of early morning sprints and stretching.
“We really had a great summer of conditioning and lifting,” Guandolo said. “We kept the kids here instead of going to 7-on-7s because we felt like we needed to focus on ourselves. Expectations are high.”
Expectations were high last year, too. But the Lightning – which lost a heartbreaker to eventual state champion Miami Central 30-27 in the 2010 state semifinals – was slowed last season by knee and ankle injuries, respectively, to quarterback Jaranta Lewis (6-0, 185) and star tailback Matt Dayes (5-10, 200, N.C. State commitment) and was knocked out by the eventual state runner-up Patriots.
Lewis and Dayes are among 33 seniors and seven three-year starters who played big roles on that state semifinal team from 2010. The others were middle linebacker Nico Marley (5-8, 190, Tulane commitment), receiver/safety Alex Montgomery (6-2, 205, Wake Forest commitment), center Jason Rae (6-0, 290, FIU commitment), cornerback Boaz Joseph (6-1, 190, 18 D-1 offers) and junior safety/running back Marquese Dudley-Gordon (5-11, 190).
“We have a lot of depth and we haven’t always had that here,” Guandolo said. “In fact, the one place we’re a little thin is offensive line. But we still have a stellar starting five – all of whom are athletic and strong.”
NEW OFFENSIVE SCHEME
The big change on offense? The Lightning, which has been among Broward’s leaders in rushing since Guandolo arrived six years ago, is going from the Wing-T to a mix of the I-formation and spread.
“We did it for Dayes so he could be a little deeper and see the field better,” Guandolo said. “It’s kind of reinvigorated me too as a coach. We did the Wing-T for so long it kind of became stale. This is forcing me to study. But my philosophy is the same. We still have to run the football to win.”
Defensively, Marley, the grandson of reggae legend Bob Marley and son of former University of Miami linebacker Rohan Marley, will once again lead the way. Last season, he led the team in tackles (87 unassisted, 42 assisted, 16 tackles for loss) and had three fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
“He’s got that Marley heart,” Guandolo said. “People talk about his lack of size, but this kid takes on a load. He gets his hand on you and he’ll take you right to the ground. To me, he’s got Jon Beason ability and Glenn Cook’s mind.”
As usual, Cypress Bay is taking on a challenging schedule. The Lightning opens with Deerfield Beach on Aug. 31, then hosts St. Thomas Aquinas (Sept. 7) and go on the road to face nationally-ranked Bradenton Manatee (Oct. 12).
“Believe me, we have enough talent to win a championship,” Guandolo said. “I hope a day like [Monday] gets them on the right track.”