Chez Mellusi breaks through for a 20-yard touchdown run during Naples' 24-9 regional semifinal home win Friday against Fort Myers. GLENN CHRISTOPHER/SPECIAL TO CSI
Chez Mellusi knows it’s coming — “I just eat it,” he says.
Naples High football coach Bill Kramer says Mellusi, the Golden Eagles’ star running back who’s bound for Clemson, is used to it — “It’s happened his entire career,” he said.
By “it”, we mean those opposing players who take liberties with Mellusi while bringing him to the ground — and even after he’s on the ground. Mellusi, just back from a three-game hiatus after suffering a foot injury, said it happened again Friday night during Naples’ 24-9 home win over Fort Myers in a Class 6A regional semifinal.
“They did it today — a lot of it today,” said Mellusi, who gouged the Green Wave defense for 193 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.
Then he cracked: “They don’t really know what’s wrong with me, so they’re trying to guess.”
It has to be deflating for Naples opponents to look up at the scoreboard after Mellusi rips off one of his long, soul-crushing touchdown runs. (He did it again Friday with a 64-yard dash.)
They can’t “join him”, so instead, the refrain of some opponents appears to be: “If you can’t beat Chez Mellusi, beat him up.”
But Mellusi’s keeping score, too — both on the scoreboard and in his mind.
“I can’t sit there and get up and try to push a guy,” he said. “I make sure I look to see who the guy was, though.”
Kramer preaches discipline to his players. Mellusi had it Friday; some of his teammates did not. Kramer chastised his team after the game for committing “ridiculous penalties” that “helped (Fort Myers) a lot.”
“It’s just part of it,” said Kramer, whose team improved to 11-1 this season after Friday’s win. “You just have to keep playing and not react. We had one of our guys that was getting into it with another guy, and our obligation is to go get your guy and get him up and get him back to the huddle. And one of our guys who was close by didn’t do that. We try to keep moving, try to get ’em up off the ground and limit that as much as possible.”
It’s no secret. The Golden Eagles are going to run, run and run some more against you.
Senior quarterback Drew Wiltsie attempted a grand total of two passes Friday. Both were caught — one by senior wideout Joel Gresbrink for two yards; the other by a Fort Myers defensive back who returned the interception for significantly more yardage. (In fairness to Wiltsie, he doesn’t get an opportunity to throw a ton of passes — he’s attempted 76 all season.)
As Naples offensive coordinator Paul Horne said, “If you beat us, you beat us. If you don’t, you don’t. But we’re going to know what to do, when to do it and how to do it for sure when we show up.”
Asked how many different running plays are in the Naples playbook, Horne said “four or five” — but, really, does it matter?
In the three games Mellusi was sidelined, opponents had to deal with his junior backfield mate, Elan Sommala, who racked up 279, 136 and 235 yards, respectively, along with five touchdowns. On Friday, Sommala ran for 135 yards on 23 carries.
“You can run 50 plays, it’s just how hard those guys work up front,” Horne said, alluding to the Eagles’ beefy offensive line of Dorian Hinton, Nick Arnold, Mike Fangman, Josiah Goberman and Matt Myers, along with rangy tight end Dominic Mammarelli. “It’s easy when Elan and Chez and C.J. (Dietzel) and Chase (Bertucci) are running the ball. They make good decisions.”
Naples will host North Fort Myers (9-3) on Friday night for the right to go to the state semifinals. The Red Knights beat Charlotte (which held off North Fort Myers for the 6A-District 10 regular-season title) 36-20 to make it to the regional finals.
The Golden Eagles beat the Red Knights, 25-14, in a preseason game on Aug. 17 — the debut of first-year North Fort Myers coach Dwayne Mack.
“Dwayne does a good job,” Kramer said. “They’re a really good team, they’re very physical on both sides up front, and they’re very skilled.
“There’s eight teams left. There’s going to be four games in Florida next week in 6A. We’re grateful to be one of them. I told our guys, it’s a little more focus, a little better preparation. It’s not a quantum leap for us, but we do have to improve this week.”