NAPLES — When South Fort Myers’ football team is brought up, Dallas Crawford and Sammy Watkins are the first names mentioned.
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2010 PREPZONE FOOTBALL
The teammates were two of the most recruited players in the nation the past two years before both verbally committed to play for Division I colleges this month. Crawford is South’s quarterback, but will play defensive back at Michigan, while Watkins is one of the nation’s top receivers and has committed to Clemson.
The duo and their rare talent are big reasons the Wolfpack had their first undefeated season this year.
Mention Naples High, though, and what comes to mind? It’s likely not a player, but the fact that the Golden Eagles are the most successful football team in Southwest Florida, at least in terms of their two state championships.
Naples (11-0) might not have the household name players that South Fort Myers (10-0) has, but both teams carry unbeaten records into their Class 3A regional semifinal game tonight at Staver Field.
“We don’t have the big-name recruits or anything,” Naples quarterback Travis Carlyle said. “We’re just all good at working together. It’s just team work and effort.”
The Golden Eagles have followed that formula for success in 13 seasons under coach Bill Kramer. Kramer wants his players to work not as a team, but as a family, often using the words “love” and “caring” to describe his squad.
While tonight’s opponent has drawn nationwide attention because of its standout players, Naples has won this season with a relative lack of star-power. The Eagles have plenty of players who should go on to play college football — defensive back Lukas Foreman, for one, has scholarship offers from Bowl Championship Series schools — but they don’t have the name recognition of Crawford or Watkins.
The Eagles, however, have piled up 11 victories this season against no defeats by mastering the basics.
“For us the key is protecting the football, don’t turn it over and be patient,” Kramer said. “Just be as fundamentally sounds as you can be in all three phases (offense, defense, special teams) of the game.”
Naples has seen some of the area’s best players come through its programs, including Division I players and even a few who made it to the NFL. One of the Eagles’ best teams, though, was one that lacked the big-time recruits of years past.
In 2007, Naples went 15-0 and won the Class 3A state championship. It was the Eagles’ second title under Kramer, but the coach’s first team to complete a season undefeated. That team had just one Division I recruit in defensive back Jack Swanson, who is now at Iowa.
“I think this year is comparable (to 2007),” Kramer said. “Certainly the work ethic and accountability is at a really high level. Everybody’s all in, and that’s all we can ask for.”
While Crawford and Watkins will be the biggest names on the field tonight, they aren’t the only reason South has had its best season in school history. The Wolfpack will tell you that they have talent across the board, which is why they’re one step short of the regional finals.
South has a beefed up offensive line this season, an improved running game and a more physical defense this season. The Wolfpack are out to show they’re more than just Crawford and Watkins.
“They’re definitely great,” South coach Grant Redhead said of his star players, “but everybody has their role on this team. Whether it’s a scout-teamer or the star receiver, you have to be a solid player. What makes the team go is the other guys who are doing their jobs so those two can be fantastic.”
The Wolfpack are hoping they have the all-around talent to get to where Naples has been. This is just the second time South has been in the second round of the playoffs in the school’s six-year history.
South only won two postseason games, both in the first-round. Naples, meanwhile, has gone to the playoffs 10 times the past 12 seasons, winning 22 games, four regional titles and the two state championships.
“Naples is a good team,” Watkins said. “They’re disciplined. Both of us are physical. We’ll play it out and see who is best. They’ve got to stop me. They’ve got to stop Dallas. They’ve got to stop all 30 or 40 players. We’ll see what happens.”