Gulf Coast High football coach Tom Scalise instructs his players during Friday night's 35-33 home loss to Monsignor Pace. OLIVIA MEANS/SPECIAL TO CSI
Tom Scalise provided the same “one game at a time” refrain that we all hear from coaches.
But, as we spoke a few hours before his Gulf Coast Sharks’ home game Friday night against Monsignor Pace (which the Sharks lost, 35-33, in a nail-biter), Scalise put the slightest of twists on this one, and it stuck.
“Every week’s a chance to just step out there and be somebody who nobody’s ever seen before,” said Gulf Coast’s first-year head coach, who was promoted to the position in February after serving as an assistant coach for three years under Pete Fominaya (the 2000 Gulf Coast graduate who left to head up a high school program in Georgia).
This week, those words ring especially true for the Sharks. Collectively, they’ll have a chance on Friday night to be a Gulf Coast team that nobody’s ever seen before.
Naples is coming to Tudryn Field at Gulf Coast High School, and the Golden Eagles (1-1) have never lost to the Sharks (2-1). The Eagles will be fresh, coming off their bye week, and may be a bit ornery after their 26-17 home loss to Palmetto on Aug. 31.
Actually, Naples has never been seriously challenged by Gulf Coast, save for one early October night in 2008 when the Sharks took the Golden Eagles to double overtime before falling 23-20.
It was clear Scalise wanted to stay in the moment during our conversation Friday afternoon — a tough test from Monsignor Pace awaited. However, he did share his thoughts on Naples High football and what will be his first head-to-head encounter with Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame coach Bill Kramer. (Scalise has worked against Naples as an assistant coach three times — with Gulf Coast in 2015 and 2016 and Palmetto Ridge in 2014 — and lost 42-6, 50-3 and 48-3, respectively.)
“Coach Kramer’s an unbelievable coach,” Scalise said. “He has set the standard in this area. If you want to be considered one of the best, you want your program to be considered like Naples is, and at the end of the day, you can’t hate on a program for being like that.
“They do an unbelievable job. They have unbelievable kids, but those kids are coached so well, and they’re so disciplined, and they believe in something bigger than themselves. I think when Coach (Kramer) says, ‘Either you’re an Eagle or you want to be,’ it’s made an entire city believe that that’s what it’s all about. And when you look at that, that’s what you coach for. You coach to create an environment where everybody wants to be a part of it, and that’s special.”
Last year may have been Gulf Coast’s best chance to beat Naples, but Hurricane Irma got in the way of that mid-September matchup. (Gulf Coast also lost its 2017 date with Monsignor Pace, two days prior to Irma’s landfall.) The Sharks, who claimed their first district title in 2016, started last season 3-0 — they’ve never had more than seven wins in a season — before a 45-12 home loss to Catfish Bowl rival Barron Collier stopped their momentum cold. They lost three straight — costing them a chance at the playoffs — before routing Golden Gate in the season finale.
Whatever momentum the Sharks got from that final game last year — plus any momentum from their spring and summer workouts under Scalise — could easily have been derailed by a 40-0 preseason home loss to Immokalee. But the Sharks put that behind them to win their first two games by a combined margin of 73-8. And Friday’s game — against a Monsignor Pace program that went 8-3 last season and lost in the Class 4A regional final — was there to be won in the final minutes.
Before Friday’s game, Scalise said the Sharks are starting to gel, then added, “I am impressed with the senior leadership and the senior buy-in, and it’s made this job a lot easier this season.”
As he tries to mold Gulf Coast into a program comparable in stature to Naples, Scalise looked to his days as an assistant coach before arriving in Southwest Florida. He spent 14 years at Grandview High School in Aurora, Colo., working for a football program that turned itself into a perennial state title contender. (The team ended up winning a championship in 2007.)
Enter that “one game at a time” refrain.
“The way we got there is similar to the way that I’m trying to do it (here),” Scalise said. “We didn’t ever worry about a season as a whole. We worried about one game at a time. If you worry about one game at a time, you’re in a lot better place. If you sit there and put a mark on it and say I want to be 9-1, well, when you lose one game, now all of a sudden everybody’s freaking out and worried about, ‘Well if we lose one more game, then our entire season goes to a bad place.’”
With Naples High coming to visit, it shouldn’t be much trouble for the Sharks to put all their focus on this next game. Let’s see if they can “be somebody who nobody’s ever seen before.”
And if they can’t, there’s always the Sept. 21 game at Estero … and so on, and so forth.