Naples coach Bill Kramer embraces senior running back Chez Mellusi after the Golden Eagles' home loss to Miami-Northwestern in a Class 6A state semifinal Friday night. GLENN CHRISTOPHER/SPECIAL TO CSI
Whether it was pain, frustration or disgust, Marc Viechec slammed his helmet to the sideline turf after hobbling off the field but before falling to the ground face first.
He lay there for a moment in clear anguish. Soon thereafter, the Naples High senior linebacker found himself on the trainer’s table.
A coach looked over, saw the helmet on the ground, picked it up and walked it over to the trainer’s table. After talking briefly with Viechec, the coach began to walk back to his spot on the sideline when he noticed Viechec’s mouthguard — separated from the helmet upon impact — also on the ground. He picked that up, too, and walked it back to the trainer’s table before getting back to his post.
That Naples coach was Bill Kramer.
The Golden Eagles’ head coach was watching his team suffer a second consecutive state semifinal loss to Miami-Northwestern, Class 6A’s reigning champion — both in convincing fashion.
“(Viechec) apologized to me,” Kramer said in the aftermath of Friday night’s 40-7 loss. “The first thing he said is, ‘Coach, I’m sorry because I need to be in the game.’
Keeping his own emotions in check, Kramer continued: “Marc was upset, and the thing he’s upset about is that he can’t be on the field helping his brothers fight and win. He felt like he was letting everybody down because he got injured.”
Viechec did, in fact, re-enter the game … but only briefly. His night would end with a return trip to the trainer’s table, his right ankle wrapped in ice.
“That’s just the kind of commitment and heart he has and how much he cares about his team,” Kramer said. “He’s in tears because he can’t go fight with his guys. It says a lot about his character and just how important it is to him.”
Viechec is part of a select group on this year’s Naples roster. Only he, running back Cesare “Chez” Mellusi, offensive lineman Dorian Hinton, defensive lineman Jett Su, quarterback Drew Wiltsie and wide receiver Joe Gresbrink were four-year lettermen with the Golden Eagles.
Those seniors accomplished something only seen once before in Kramer’s 21 years at Naples High: they won three regional titles in four years. (The only other time that happened was 2001-04.)
That’s a pretty big deal considering they played for a program that, under Kramer’s guidance, owns two state titles and eight regional crowns, has been nationally ranked, and regularly produces Division I talent (including Mellusi, who soon will sign with Clemson University).
After the game, Kramer looked inward, feeling as though he let his players down.
“I’ve got to find a better way to coach because certainly our players gave us all they had,” he said.
In truth, Naples was simply beaten by a better team Friday night. (FYI: Northwestern finished third in its own district behind first-place Miami-Carol City and runner-up Miami-Central.)
“Last year, going against them, we got a little taste of it,” Su, a defensive captain, said about the Bulls’ massive size and blazing speed. “We thought we were going to get after them this year, but they surprised us again. We put in a lot of hard work this season, and we hoped for a different outcome.”
Despite the lopsided result, Bulls coach Max Edwards gave the Golden Eagles their due when asked if they’re a state championship-caliber team.
“Yes, easily … easily … because if you don’t do your job, they’ll put 54 points on you quick,” Edwards said. “The talent’s there.”
Viechec and the other seniors will graduate. Some will go on to play college football. Their legacy, Kramer hopes, will extend beyond the 42-8 record they helped compile these last four years.
“We were talking about that in the locker room to all the young guys that are coming back,” Kramer said. “(We told them) ‘You gotta understand that this is important. And you have a legacy to build on.’ And that’s a big responsibility, and at Naples High, it really is. In Southwest Florida, we’re the guys that everybody circles every year, and that means we’ve got to be ahead of the curve every week.
“Hopefully the young guys will follow Marc and follow Cesare and the other seniors and build on the legacy. And maybe next year we can take it one more step.”
Count junior offensive lineman Mike Fangman as one of those returning players determined to continue and advance the Naples High legacy.
“Our weight room program is crazy,” said Fangman, the Golden Eagles’ center. “Once we get in the weight room this summer and this offseason, we’ll be ready for next year.”
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