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North JV football needs to grow up fast

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Oct 4, 2021

North Fort Myers’ Kirtis Denham cares down the sidelines for a long gain during a junior varsity football game last week against Charlotte in North Fort Myers.

The North Fort Myers High School varsity football team is very young and so is its junior varsity team.

The Red Knights who will make up the varsity team in the next year or two are learning the ropes against some of the best programs in the region and, despite their youth, they are more than holding their own.

The problem is mistakes, and North seems to be making its share. That was the case last Thursday when they played Charlotte at home.

A fumble that resulted in a Tarpon touchdown and a second one in the closing moments as the Red Knights appeared to be going in for a potential game-winning touchdown was the difference in a 14-8 setback.

North defensive coordinator Ron Kelly said the defense was great against a team that averaged 40 points per game, but that the most minute mistake can cost you the game.

“This is a good learning point for the kids. At this level, we’re young and many are inexperienced so they’re really learning a lot,” Kelly said. “I’m very proud on the defensive side of the ball, but while the offense is getting better every week, we need to clean it up.”

Charlotte got off to a great start when Braden Krejci stripped a North runner of the ball and raced into the end zone late in the first quarter. Steven Bullock made a circus catch late in the first half for Charlotte to put them up 14-0 at the break.

North did not back down as they got good running from Kirtis Denham, Alex Alvarez and Kendall Johnson, with the latter scoring midway through the fourth quarter to make it 14-8.

The Red Knights got the ball late in the game and got inside the Charlotte 20, but a fumble ended North’s hopes as Charlotte ran out the clock.

Kelly said the Knights have a lot of freshmen who haven’t played before, which can be a challenge as opposed to kids who have come up through the Pop Warner system.

“We have to start from scratch and teach them the base fundamentals and build them up to be at a level where they can be competitive,” Kelly said. “These kids are coming along and really doing great.”

Sometimes, this begs the question whether new freshmen players should play high school or Pop Warner football. Kelly said that depends on the player. With North having just 32 players on JV, the opportunity to play in high school is better than if there were 70 or 80 players.

“The downside is he’s missing a year of learning the high school system. Learning the system gives him a better chance as a sophomore of making varsity,” Kelly said.

Despite the close losses and mistakes at the wrong time, Kelly said North JV is playing North football.

“We tell them to forget about the score, have fun, enjoy the game and play North Knight football, and they are,” Kelly said. “I’m very proud of them.”