Led by first-year coach Jeff DiSandro, Ponte Vedra will look to make its fifth straight FHSAA playoff appearance. The Sharks will travel to Oakleaf for their kickoff classic on Friday at 7 p.m.

Aidan Dunigan was asked an obvious question.

Considering how many lacrosse players are on the football team, how will that translate on the gridiron this fall?

“We got a taste of it. We have a lot of lacrosse players out here,” Dunigan said. “We know what it’s like to win. That will translate very well this year. That team knew how to stay focused. We created our opportunities. It’s going to give us more leadership.”

Dunigan is one of six players from Ponte Vedra’s state championship-winning team who will put on pads this fall.

Safety Tommy Zitiello has committed to the United States Military Academy to play football; senior Riley McCormick will starter at cornerback; junior Campbell Parker was the football team’s leading rusher in 2018 with 841 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns; Noah Washington is in the mix for playing time at wide receiver and senior defensive end Will Frank finished with 26 tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks last year.

The last time Ponte Vedra’s lacrosse team made the state final, the football team equaled the feat seven months later. That was 2016. In both instances, the Sharks had their opportunities but narrowly lost.

In a perfect world, the Sharks football team would like to continue the trend.

One cannot play December football without making the playoffs. Ponte Vedra’s path to the postseason appears to have opened up with the Sharks’ insertion into District 3-6A with St. Augustine, Englewood and Matanzas.

On paper, one may presume the Oct. 25 home contest against the Yellow Jackets would be for the district title. Nevertheless, first-year coach Jeff DiSandro is taking things day by day.

“Like Bill Belichick, this week is what we’re focused on, (it’s) week to week,” senior linebacker George Sanders said. “We don’t look ahead. We prepare the same way for whatever game it may be. If it's Englewood, if it’s St. Aug if it’s Bartram, we’re going to practice the same way. It doesn’t matter that much to us. I don’t think we’ll overlook any teams because we know it's football and anything can happen.”

The Sharks are maintaining the multiple offense and 4-3 defense that were showcased under former coach Matt Toblin. DiSandro and his staff are unveiling new wrinkles to the offense that will be led by junior quarterback Jacobi Myers.

Ponte Vedra returns a trio of offensive lineman from a squad that averaged 27 points per game last fall. Kevin Butler, Andrew Lewis and John Mazzella are all seniors. The latter two will be in the mix along Ponte Vedra’s defensive line as well.

Lewis was a defensive lineman for his first two years in the program but was nudged by the former coaching staff to continue the family tradition of being an offensive lineman for the Sharks.

DiSandro has noted the culture within the program was previously established by his predecessor. What he has strived to do is enhance it.

“It’s been urgent, intense, upbeat and up-tempo camp,” DiSandro said after a recent practice. “The kids have worked really, really hard. I’ve been really happy with that. (I’m pleased with) their work ethic and discipline to come out here and give 150 % all the time.”

In recent years, Ponte Vedra has employed a bend-but-don’t-break defense. It’s a strategy that allowed the Sharks to swim away from Nease in its 2018 season opener, force Trinity Christian to turn the ball over five times, stave off Bishop Kenny in a then-district game and deny St. Augustine multiple times in the red zone in their first win over the Yellow Jackets last September.

This year, the Sharks will rely on a senior-laden defense. Dunigan, Sanders and Heuschkel will comprise the linebacker corps. Harlan Nikilov is a senior defensive lineman and the secondary features four seniors.

“The whole defensive backfield as a group is a veteran group who has been playing some good football,” DiSandro said. “Both corners, the other safety, Riley McCormick and Kyle Bondra, they have been doing a really nice job.”

DiSandro may be the third coach in the 12-year history of the program, but each of his two predecessors could rely on soundness on special teams. This year, the kicking duties will be handled by freshman Davis Ashcroft while the identity of the punter may not be known until Friday’s kickoff classic against Oakleaf.

While the coaching staff may be new, the bonds that have tied Ponte Vedra football together are not. DiSandro believes the latter is just as important as the former when it comes to winning football games.

“The connections are really important, the connections and concern for each other,” DiSandro said. “You really hope it’s like your 12th man. At the end of the day, if they play their guts out and they can execute and they really believe in each other, you hope it becomes your 12th man.”