Packed and stacked. 

That was the theme of the opposition faced by Keys football teams on Sept. 1, when all three squads again lost to mainland private and charter schools. Open transferring and the ability to go from school to school has made for some seriously stacked teams in South Florida, and it seems as if Key West, Marathon and Coral Shores have a season full of all-star opposition on their schedules. 

Unlike mainland schools, it is nearly impossible for Keys teams to lure student athletes to their rosters due to the unique geography of living on a string of islands. To make matters worse, it is never clear which teams will have the hot roster or which ones will give smaller public schools more even matchups from season to season.

Key West had an obvious hurdle with IMG Academy White, a school that professes to have “a proven reputation for player development, college recruitment and preparation to compete at the next level.” The Conchs looked across the line of scrimmage at a team full of multi-star recruits – last year, more than 60% of the school’s athletes committed to play at the Division I level and by the looks of this year’s roster, Key West’s second loss of the season came from a team that looks to do the same again.

More than 70 athletes traveled for IMG, making it easy for them to maintain a high level of play throughout the night. In contrast, “Depth became an issue for us, that’s for sure,” said Conchs coach Johnny Hughes. Even so, his team was able to score a trio of TDs Friday night, including a 60-plus yard run by Jeff DeJean. Walston Moren added six more points on the ground on a short rocket pistol play. QB Adrian Mira faced a lot of pressure throughout the night, making for a rough passing game, but was able to get off a quick 1-yard TD pass to tight end Noah Mercer. 

Hughes was optimistic about his team, notably Mira’s ability to run the option and the Conchs’ execution of several big plays which opened up for them over the course of the game. 

“Unfortunately, we gave up some big plays, too. We can’t afford to do that against teams like them,” he said, noting that two turnovers cost the Conchs dearly. “We claw for every yard and down and can’t let up big plays.” 

Another high cost for Key West was losing junior Jaden Fox with a shoulder injury. While it does not look as if Fox will be out for a lengthy period, he is unlikely to see action this week against yet another dominant force in South Florida football: Oxbridge Academy, which will travel to Key West on Sept. 8. Leo Baptiste and RJ Estevez are expected to fill in for Fox, who plays both ways, for the time being. 

Marathon lost an important piece of their lineup Friday night as well, as sophomore Eddie Garcia had to leave the game with a whiplash-like injury. Like Fox, Garcia will be out for at least this coming week, which spells bad news for a team with already the smallest roster in Monroe County.

A small roster was not a common denominator in the Fins’ opponent last Friday – Somerset Academy Silver Palms boasts a 59-man roster. While some teams tend to fib on their heights and weights, the left tackle for the Stallions, William Massa, was all of the 6’4” and 300 pounds listed on the team’s stat sheet, dwarfing junior Nolan O’Hara, one of Marathon’s larger players. 

O’Hara, who was directly across the line from his enormous competitor, “did not give up and worked all night to get past (Massa),” coach Sean McDonald said of his defensive end. “He could very easily have gone into self-preservation mode, but Nolan is a competitor and showed so much heart Friday night.”

“It was like David versus Goliath.” he added. 

Marathon did manage one phenomenal touchdown in the lopsided 52-6 contest. Carlos Lezcano connected with Fabbianho Louis Jeune, who turned on his speed and took the ball in for a 65-yard touchdown. One of McDonald’s two seniors, Yaniel Garcia, pulled in an incredible interception in the first half of the game, adding another positive note to the team’s second loss this season. 

“The team is young and green, but they do not give up. This is a process and we know it,” said McDonald. “The guys did a fantastic job of staying positive, never blaming, and working together. They will be good, but it is going to take a lot of work. This group is up for the challenge.” 

Marathon’s next challenge comes at the hands of the NSU University School. Marathon will play the undefeated Sharks in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, Sept. 7. 

Coral Shores coach Ed Holly is still feeling optimistic about his team’s season, describing the ’Canes as “young but eager to learn.” A relatively short trip to Palmer Trinity was extended for Coral Shores due to a heat delay and then a weather delay, putting the completion of the game in jeopardy because the Falcons’ stadium does not have lighting. The teams managed to get in all four quarters, and while Holly says his team is improving weekly, the ’Canes still need to work on “putting it all together” and doing so consistently, something that only comes from experience. 

Coral Shores was down 14-0 at halftime and came out swinging in the second half. Hurricane fans who endured the heat and foul weather were rewarded with an exciting 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Dantay Diorio. The ’Canes’ other score came from a Yemcel Moreno run in the final moments of the game. 

during football media day Monday, August 14, 2023. Photo by Doug Finger

Holly praised Diorio’s relentless play at cornerback and took a great deal of pride in the defensive play of both RJ Dube and Jamoris Davis, saying Dube “played his best game on defense so far.”

Coral Shores will have the home field advantage this week when they play Palm Glades Prep, a team which has yet to score a touchdown this season and whose roster included multiple middle school athletes. With his team earning valuable experience each quarter, Holly’s Hurricanes should give fans some exciting action on Saturday, Sept. 9.

Tracy McDonald fled to the Keys from the frozen mountains of Pennsylvania hours after graduating from college and never looked back. She is a second generation coach and educator, and has taught in the public school system for over 25 years. She and her husband met at a beginning teacher meeting in 1997 and have three children born and raised in Monroe County. In her free time, McDonald loves flea markets, historical fiction and long runs in the heat.