Jordan Ingman distinctly remembers how the 2021 Port Charlotte football season ended.
He was coming out of church on a Sunday morning in November, just a day removed from the Pirates’ dominant, 32-14 win against visiting Kathleen. It had been a must-win, must-play game for Port Charlotte, which had been snake-bit by pandemic-related scheduling shenanigans for a second consecutive season.
Weather nearly cost Port Charlotte the game. The teams kicked off on that Friday night, but were forced into a suspension. Kathleen didn’t want to cede the loss, so they returned on Saturday to finish the game.
With the victory, all Port Charlotte needed was one of nine other schools to win a game that week. Ingman had done the math and knew the numbers were on the Pirates’ side, should just one team win.
None did. On that Sunday morning after church, Ingman saw the Pirates had missed out on a playoff berth by .002 points.
“It was a tough blow there,” Ingman said this past week. “I still remember exactly where I was that morning.”
And so ended a 5-4 season that found the Pirates in a dramatically different position than they began the campaign. The team’s 1-3 start was largely the result of a staggering amount of fresh faces on both sides of the ball. Port Charlotte’s 4-1 closing kick was blemished solely by a powerhouse, senior-laden Sebring squad that took the district title.
The Pirates’ offense had scored at least 32 points in three of those four wins, hinting at the potential awaiting the team in 2022.
The close call had a distinct effect on the Pirates.
They hit the weight room.
“That last game, we were playing really good and thought we had a shot at the playoffs,” said returning senior quarterback Bryce Eaton. “It just sucked the way it ended, but you’ve got to move on at the end of the day and get back in the weight room, which we did really well.”
The team’s max weight numbers in December were a fraction of where it was as practice began last week.
Attendance was in excess of 100 percent, due to an extra-credit system Ingman put in place to push the team even harder.
“After our testing, this is the strongest team we’ve had in 11 years,” Ingman said. “It’s also the most committed team we’ve had here. …
“I’m excited, honestly, to see them all together because it’s the most committed and strongest team that we’ve put on the field.”
The commitment side of it, said Eaton, comes from the Port Charlotte Bandits program. A large portion of the Pirates’ top playmakers passed through the Pop Warner program together, including Eaton, who was a Bandit before playing at Venice for his first two high school seasons.
“We have guys who hold each other accountable because we’ve been playing together as a group with each other for 10-plus years,” Eaton said. “So if someone wants to miss a day, we won’t let that happen. We get them in the weight room.”
Port Charlotte knew it was on the right track following the spring game, when the Pirates blistered North Fort Myers 54-36. The team ran for more than 500 yards and got touchdowns from five different players, including three by running back Edd Guerrier and two each from Eaton and running back Justice Becerill.
Guerrier rolled up 217 rushing yards and added a 61-yard pass reception as the Pirates’ offensive line dominated the trenches.
“We went in there thinking that we were going to run a lot, but we didn’t know we were going to go for 500 yards,” said senior center Vincent Chavez. “We just had a good night in general. We had, like, 22 pancakes as an o-line.”
Over the past two seasons, the Pirates sported jump-ball threats at the receiver position, but the graduation of Alex Perry means the Pirates’ passing attack will shift into a new phase. Jamal Streeter, who had three receptions and a touchdown in that spring game, brings speed and physicality to the position.
“He’s grown since last year,” Eaton said. “He put on 20 pounds in the weight room and looks like a beast out there.”
Eaton is a dual threat at quarterback, which will keep teams honest if they attempt to key solely on the Pirates’ running game. Guerrier, a junior, is the area’s top returning running back, coming off a season in which he ran for 936 yards and averaged more than eight yards per carry.
The defense will also boast one of the area’s top talents after Jeremiah “Juju” Laguerre transferred in from North Port. The physical and speedy defensive back amassed seven interceptions through the first three games of the 2021 season before opposing teams altered their game plans to stay as far away from him as possible.
In the new district format, Port Charlotte finds itself in District 13 of the newly formed Suburban Class 3 (District 3S-13). The district skews to the north of the area and features Braden River, Parrish Community and Bradenton Southeast. Braden River was 9-2 a year ago, while Southeast was 5-3, but lost to the Pirates, 17-7. Parrish was 3-5 with a very young team in 2021.
The Pirates will play host to Charlotte in the annual Peace River Rivalry on Sept. 2. They will open the regular season on Aug. 26 at a solid Bishop Verot squad after an exhibition against Dunbar a week earlier.
Later in the season, just before meeting Braden River, Port Charlotte will make a trip to perennial powerhouse Manatee, which is expecting to do big things after an uncharacteristic 2-7 run in 2021.
Chavez said the goal in 2022 is for the Pirates to be masters of their own fate, rather than relying on a computer formula.
“I feel that we can make it far this year,” he said. “Like super-far this year, which would be the first time for me. That would be a good experience. It would be fun for the team.”