North Port stays in 7A-11 but its opponents have changed ... will more district wins follow?

NORTH PORT

The North Port High football program has not had a winning season in its 17-year history.

Along those same lines, the Bobcats have not won more than two district games in a season since going 2-3 in 2005.

The past four seasons North Port played in Class 7A-District 11 with the likes of Venice, Braden River and Palmetto. All three of those teams not only made the postseason last year under the new points system, they all won at least one playoff game.

So when the Florida High School Athletic Association redistricted for the upcoming season and the Bobcats were placed in 7A-11 with Lehigh Acres Lehigh Senior, Fort Myers Riverdale and Naples Gulf Coast, it created a little buzz in the program.

“Were getting to play some new teams and seeing different sides,” North Port coach Brian Hatler said. “It’s exciting. The kids are excited.”

The last time the Bobcats won more than one game in district play, Lehigh and Gulf Coast were part of it.

“We still have to go out and play,” Hatler said.

North Port enters the 2019 season with a “good mix” of experience, although Hatler said he is looking for some “younger guys to step up.”

No matter where he plays, Taylor Willis will be a big part of the team. Hatler calls Willis a “multi-functional player” who will see time at H-back, wide receiver and in the backfield, along with playing strong safety or outside linebacker on defense.

Wide receiver Colby Pirillo and running back Jeff Terry both had good springs and summers and are expected to also be impact players.

Providing experience on the offensive line are senior Mike Watz and juniors Gabriel Rodriguez and Mitch Ramsey.

“We’re hoping to be more physical up front,” said Hatler, who is also the team's offensive coordinator. “One of the main points of emphasis is securing the football.”

The defense changed from a 4-2-5 to a 4-3-4 under coordinator Al Curtiss.

Losing a number of starters to graduation, the Bobcats return Deandre Wilson at outside linebacker, Steven Poplin on the line and Willis.

“We want to create turnovers, run around and play pressure defense,” Hatler said.

John-Victor Oliveira is the main special teams weapon. Also a soccer player, Oliveira accounted for 11 touchbacks last year and has hit field goals in the 50-yard range during the summer.

If there is one area of concern it is team depth. Hatler expects to use a number of players on both sides of the ball and plans to play everyone on the team's 40-plus man roster to keep players fresh.

A goal for the season is to finish games. Last year, North Port held the lead or was close in several games at halftime only to falter in the second half.

But the biggest change for the Bobcats this season may be the new district and the non-district opponents on their schedule. In addition to the district games, North Port will play Estero, Sarasota, South Fort Myers, Lakewood Ranch, Tampa Catholic, Bayshore and Lemon Bay.

“There are some great challenges and great opportunities there,” Hatler said.