Celtics quarterback Mike Joyce runs the ball against Gateway Charter during Friday's football jamboree at St. John Neumann. SAMANTHA HUSSEY/SPECIAL TO CSI
They turned a page at St. John Neumann on Friday night.
And from all indications, football coach Damon Jones and his Celtics are ready for the next chapter.
“We have a long way to go with this group, but we answered questions about who we are as a team,” said Jones, who’s transformed the Celtics into a local powerhouse during his three years on the job — punctuated by last season’s 10-2 record and the program’s first-ever playoff victory. “We’re showing, as a program, that we can be competitive year-in and year-out.”
Some personnel questions were answered during Friday’s four-team spring jamboree, which Neumann hosted, as Jones saw the Celtics take the field without his son Jensen, the 2018 Player of the Year in Class 2A. (Jensen Jones graduated from Neumann on Thursday and then capped off his sensational senior year that evening by winning the prestigious Winged Foot Scholar-Athlete Award.)
His replacement at quarterback? It’s junior-to-be Mike Joyce. Coach Jones said he wants Joyce to relax and not try to do too much.
“We just tell him to be the best you can be,” Jones said. “If all of us, as coaches and players, can strive to be our best, we’ll be successful.”
Coach Jones said he thought Joyce played well and that the entire offensive line had a good night rotating against Gateway Charter, Southwest Florida Christian Academy and Admiral Farragut. Jones also singled out the play of Jakenson Josapha, saying, “I thought he played a whale of a game at defensive end.”
Rising sophomore Dawson Jones — Jensen’s younger brother — also made his presence felt by intercepting a pass (and nearly picking off another).
The Celtics played Gateway to a scoreless tie, beat SFCA 6-0 — thanks to a short touchdown run by Jake Glasser that was set up by a long Joyce run — and lost 6-0 to Farragut.
Neumann is slated to host Admiral Farragut again in a preseason game on Aug. 16. The Celtics will kick off the 2019 regular season on Aug. 23 with a road game against arch-rival Community School of Naples, which went 4-6 last season (including a 48-0 trouncing at Neumann).
While the Celtics are losing their star quarterback to the college ranks (Jensen Jones is expected to redshirt in his first season at the Air Force Academy), they were able to beef up their coaching staff during the offseason.
“I’ve got one of the best staffs in Southwest Florida,” said Coach Jones, who is also St. John Neumann’s athletic director. “I already had a great staff; now it’s one of the best.”
Jones, a former football and basketball star at Lely High School, brought in two coaches with ties to the Trojans: offensive coordinator Mike Cassio (who served in the same role at Lely the last two seasons) and running back/outside linebacker coach Culmer St. Jean (who spent the 2018 season away from high school football).
St. Jean, also a former Trojans star and University of Wisconsin player, was Lely’s head coach from 2013-15 (guiding the Trojans to their last district title in 2014). He spent the 2016-17 seasons working as Immokalee’s defensive coordinator.
“I convinced him to come out of his short retirement,” Jones said.
Mike Corozzo, who is new to the area, was also hired to the Celtics staff. He coaches wide receivers.
Neumann’s biggest offseason score, however, may have come on Thursday night.
The Winged Foot Award — given for the past 30 years to Collier County’s top scholar-athlete, as selected by the Winged Foot Scholarship Foundation — was the icing on the cake for Jensen Jones. (He’s the only Celtics football player to win the award, and just the second Neumann student overall to win it, joining Shannon McGregor in 2001.)
“For him to be recognized for what he’s achieved athletically, academically and all-around, that was pretty special,” Coach Jones said. “He’s just a great, great kid.”