Trillyon Fils-Aime, bottom, and Ethan Pratt, top, tackle a South Fort Myers ballcarrier for a loss during Friday night's preseason game at Palmetto Ridge High School. GREGG HARDY/CSI
Difficult as it had to have been, P.J. Gibbs got the response he was hoping for from his Palmetto Ridge defense Friday night.
“That LLC … Live Like Colby … they embraced that,” said Gibbs, the Bears’ defensive coordinator, following a 7-0 preseason home win over South Fort Myers High School.
It’s been less than seven weeks since Colby Singletary — Palmetto Ridge’s standout running back/linebacker, who had hopes of playing Division I football, and was a two-time state wrestling champion — died in a single-car accident.
Taking the field Friday appeared to be cathartic release for the Bears, who spent much of their summer mourning and memorializing Singletary while also having to prepare for the upcoming season.
“The kids have responded so well (and) the community’s been great,” Gibbs said. “I told them when we met today, ‘You guys are young. You’re not used to things getting taken from you at such a young age. As you get older, that’s the caveat — things get taken from you. You guys have handled it so well, but let’s go out tonight, let’s do the right thing, let’s do our job, play the right way, and everything will take care of itself.’”
Singletary’s No. 22 was everywhere Friday. It was on the black armbands worn by Palmetto Ridge players and coaches. It was on a “turnover chain” that Jhordan Inniss and Antonio Alvarado proudly donned after both recorded second-half interceptions. And, it was on the back of these red, long-sleeved shirts (just under the word “Cheese” — Singletary’s nickname).
Also, South Fort Myers paid tribute to Singletary and the Palmetto Ridge community by presenting a framed No. 22 Wolfpack jersey.
After the opening kickoff, the teams honored Singletary in the best way they could: with a hard-hitting contest. The Bears overcame an injury to quarterback Evan Rodriguez, who left the field in an ambulance, and shut out the Wolfpack for the second straight meeting. Palmetto Ridge blanked SFM 12-0 last September.
“What a great way to honor (Colby) … shutting this team out,” Gibbs said. “Obviously, you’re not going to replace a superior athlete like that, but we can only hope that the people that we have in that position can play up to his level.”
Senior Voshon Siriac — who, Gibbs said, has caught the eye of several Division I programs — is being called upon to help fill the void left by Singletary. A safety last year who was slated to play the “vipor” position this season (“our hybrid guy,” Gibbs said), Siriac is now playing Singletary’s inside linebacker role.
“He’s coachable. He’s highly intelligent. He’s gotten better every day,” Gibbs said of Siriac. “To play three different spots and with your reads and everything … he’s really embraced it.”
Offensively, Palmetto Ridge wasted little time Friday showing off its firepower on the outside. The Bears’ 1-2 receiver punch, juniors Kamonte Grimes and Malique Dieudonne, scored on back-to-back plays in the first quarter; although, only one of them counted.
After Rodriguez found him over the middle and in stride, Grimes bounced off a would-be tackler and outran four Wolfpack defenders for what appeared to be an 89-yard touchdown. However, the Bears were flagged for holding and had to settle for a 50-yard gain.
On the very next play, Dieudonne took a pass from Rodriguez and sped 39 yards into the end zone.
According to Rivals.com, the 6-1, 185-pound Grimes has received scholarship offers from 11 Division I programs, including Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina and Ohio State. He’s also received an offer from Temple, as has the 6-foot, 147-pound Dieudonne, according to 247sports.com.
(Grimes and Dieudonne are also a formidable matchup for Palmetto Ridge’s opponents on the basketball court. Asked if the duo is more feared on the gridiron or hardwood, Grimes said with a chuckle: “Depends on who you ask.”)
Palmetto Ridge, now in its fifth season under the guidance of head coach Chris Toukonen, faces a daunting regular-season schedule as it tries to rebound from a 4-6 record last year after going 7-3 in 2017.
It gets real really quickly for the Bears, who kick things off Friday with a home date against Tampa Catholic. The Crusaders — who went 8-4 and reached the Class 3A regional final last year, boast a couple of major Division I recruits. Defensive back/wide receiver D.J. Taylor and mammoth 6-foot-5, 285-pound offensive tackle David Hoyt have committed to Arizona State and Army, respectively.
After Tampa Catholic, Palmetto Ridge faces two more quality programs: at home against Victory Christian Academy on Aug. 30; and at Bishop Verot on Sept. 6. Then the Bears get to tangle with their Collier County Athletic Conference rivals for the next six games: Sept. 13 at Naples; Sept. 27 at Lely; Oct. 4 vs. Gulf Coast; Oct. 11 vs. Immokalee; Oct. 18 vs. Barron Collier; and Oct. 25 at Golden Gate.
What a six-game stretch that is going to be, as every county team except Gulf Coast is now in the Bears’ district. (As part of its revamped playoff points system, the Florida High School Athletic Association reclassified Immokalee and Lely from 5A to 6A. They join Palmetto Ridge, Golden Gate, Barron Collier and perennial district champion Naples in the newly created District 14.)
Palmetto Ridge wraps up its regular-season schedule with a Nov. 1 home game against Port Charlotte.
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