IMMOKALEE: Nice Guys Do Finish First!

Do you know where Immokalee is? Charles Fishbein does, and he went there to meet the classy Indians in Southwest Florida, who may have some of the most talented football players in the nation – and a coach and community that supports them every step of the way!

IMMOKALEE – With spring practice fast approaching, Immokalee High School is gearing up for another championship run. In 2004, the Indians made it all the way to the state championship game and upset Madison County, who at the time, was considered the top team by Larry Blustein of

Not only was Immokalee able to upset Madison County, but the surprising Indians also knocked off defending 2A state champion Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna two weeks earlier. What made the championship run most impressive, is they did it with a very young team.

As we continue to do, and the fans enjoy it most, is go right to the source. No phone calls, here., keeping up a tradition that coaches and players have enjoyed for decades, goes right to where the story is – live and in person!

The town of Immokalee is a proud rural community that took last season's state title with so much pride. Whether you talk to business owners, students or residents, head coach John Weber and his football team are simply the toast of the northwest Everglades in historic Southwest Florida.

Eliezer Alce
After sitting down to talk with Weber and his team, I came away with a feeling that I never imagined. This is a football team that expected to win it all last season. They parlayed hard work and dedication into something very special. This is a very determined and unselfish group which would like nothing better than to take home the crown once again in 2005.

"While people viewed what happened as a surprise, this football team, this school and this community realized what was happening," said Weber. "This was a talented group of young men who respected one another, and that was perhaps the most important ingredient of winning it all."

So, why was Immokalee so successful last season? The answer, other than respecting one another, is simple. They were loaded with talent! Whether it's star running back Javarris James or emerging star defensive tackle John Paul, the Indians had many reasons why they stepped to the head of the class in December at Florida Field in Gainesville. Another star on that team was safety Renold Jean Louis.

Esdras Duperrard
"Sitting in a Gainesville restaurant hours before the game and talking with the fans, they felt they had already won the state title against Chaminade two weeks before," said Blustein. "I had the pleasure of broadcasting that game on radio and remember feeling that this community didn't take the five hour ride to lose the game."

As I sat down with Coach Weber, who is one of the most up front and supportive people I have dealt with, he talked about his team and what he expected from them.

"With such a young team, most would have thought we were still a year away from winning a state championship," Weber said. "We also had to beat some outstanding teams like Chaminade, who is not only talented, but very well coached."

"Madison County which may be as talented a team as you can face. They were also a well coached team as well, Weber added."

So what does Weber think of his star running back James, who many have already appointed as the No. 1 back in the state? "Not only is Javarris a very gifted back you would never know it because of how humble he can be," Weber pointed out. "Javarris is a great kid and will do whatever you ask of him. He works very hard and wants to get better all the time."

Mike Woods
When I had the pleasure of speaking with James, he mentioned about his cousin the "Edge", what schools he has most interest in and what its like to live up to everyone's expectations.

When it comes to his cousin, who left a mark on Immokalee as Larry Blustein's No. 1 senior that year, stepped up at the University of Miami and has been the toast of the National Football League with the Indianapolis Colts.

"It's an honor to be compared to my cousin but at the same time it puts a ton of pressure on me," James said. "There were times last year where it got into my head that I had to make something big happen. It forced me to press when I did not have to."

Even with the expectations, James knows that even more will come when its time to make a decision on where to go to school.

"Most assume that because my cousin went to UM, that's where I will go," James said. "I like UM a lot but there other schools that I have interest in as well. I like UF, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Nebraska, USC and LSU."

James who also was First-Team All-State selection last year also spoke about coaching stability and how important that is to his decision. "I don't want to go to a program that their coach may be on his way out. I want to have the same coach for all four years that I am in college."

Randy Gilbert
While James gets most of the attention, which is to be expected for what he has done since his ninth grade season, it's John Paul, who has risen to become one of the top defensive linemen in the nation.

Paul is a "monster" (6-5, 260-pounder) on the defensive side of the football. He registered over 70 tackles last season, had 2 forced fumbles, 5 quarterback sacks and scored 1 touchdown. Weber spoke about his star defensive tackle and what the future holds.

"He has tremendous potential," Weber said. "When you look at his size and how much bigger and stronger he will get in college, the sky is the limit. He just needs to continue to work hard in the weight room, film room and on the football field."

Not only is Paul a star on the football field, he carries a 3.4 GPA, and will be taking the ACT in the next month or so. Right now he has offers from UF, Ohio State and UNLV. When you take in account that he runs in the 4.6 range and is exceptionally strong, Paul has the chance to be a star in college and years after.

Renold Jean-Louis
"This is a young man who was impressive all season," said Blustein. "I saw him struggle a bit against Naples, and then turn it up against Fort Myers Dunbar and Madison County. I rated him high in the pre season for good reason."

Another talented prospect is safety Renold Jean Louis. At 6-0, 170-pounds, Louis has the size to play either safety or cornerback in college. One of the top-rated safety prospects in Florida is already drawing attention from college recruiters. The Schools that top his list at this time would be Tennessee, Oklahoma, Georgia, UF and Texas. Louis was named to the 1st Team All-State this past year. When you look at his impressive stats it's easy to see why. Louis finished the season with 9 interceptions, 82 tackles and 1 force fumble.

"I want an education, so if football does not work out there is something else to fall back on," Louis said. "Not everyone makes it to the NFL and if that happens to me there must be something else that will help me in life outside of football."

Coach Weber also chimed in to talk about his safety: "He has great sense of where the ball is going before the quarterback makes his decision," Weber said. "The only knock I have on Louis is he could have had 10 or 11 interceptions last year."(Weber laughed)."
John Paul
Others that had a big impact on their success last season were Mike Woods a senior cornerback/receiver, Eliezer Alce a fullback/defensive end and linebacker Esdras Duperard. With the loss of their starting quarterback last season Immokalee will rely on transfer Randy Gilbert who comes over from Labelle High School.

I have to admit that when I went to Immokalee to meet Coach Weber and his team, I didn't know what I would find. What I did see were well behaved gentlemen who respect one another, believe they can repeat and have a sense for what the community has given to them in the way of support.

Along with Larry Blustein, I have to believe that we cover this state like nobody else can. Sometimes you come across stories that are predictable – while other times you come upon an Immokalee – which makes the trip well worth it!

Charles Fishbein is a recruiting analyst for He also writes columns for Scott Kennedy and He has become one of the premier high school football columnists in the nation. Look soon for his 2005 NFL Draft Booklet, which will be released next week. You can contact him at


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