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Friday night football forecast

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Games of the week

Armwood at Bloomingdale, 7:30

Seating capacity: Game participants (athletes, cheerleaders, band members) were allowed to select four spectators and submit names by this past Wednesday. They must sit together. 

Masks: Required by all fans

Tickets: Online only through HillsboroughSchools.org/athletics

Live stream: Fans can watch for free at identitytb.com

Outlook: The teams played twice last season with the Hawks prevailing in both. The region semifinal win (28-13) was one of the closest games Armwood had all year. One of the biggest storylines has to do with Bloomingdale receiver Agiye Hall, an Alabama commit who played with the Hawks the past two seasons and is going up against his former team. He is part of an influx of transfers that helped the Bulls solidify an already talented roster. Armwood still has plenty of playmakers. Cam’Ron Ransom is back at quarterback. So is receiver Charles Montgomery, a Florida commit. Some of the offensive fireworks could be doused by two of the best defenses in the area. A big key will be how well Bloomingdale’s offensive line does in containing Hawks defensive tackle Desmond Watson, a Florida recruit. 

Pinkos pick: Armwood by 31

Putnam’s prediction: Armwood 20-16

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Clearwater at Jesuit, 7:30

Seating capacity: Each team was given an allotment of tickets to distribute to families in advance. 

Masks: Required

Tickets: Sold out

Live stream: Fans can watch by going to Jesuit’s football Facebook page

Outlook: This was a defensive slugfest last year with the Tornadoes coming through on a goal line stand to preserve the win. Both defenses are still as stingy as ever. The offenses will look a little different, especially at quarterback. Joe Pesansky took over quarterbacking duties for the Tigers and threw for more than 200 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s win over Fort Myers Bishop Verot. Kamrhen Simpkins, a transfer from Largo, is now Clearwater’s signal caller. 

Pinkos pick: Jesuit by 13

Putnam’s prediction: Clearwater 14-13

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Clearwater Central Catholic at Tampa Catholic, 7

Seating capacity: 500

Masks: Fans need to bring one but only have to wear it when social distancing cannot be practiced. 

Tickets: Sold out. They were available to players, cheerleaders, Crusaderettes and students at school. 

Live stream: Available through Tampa Catholic’s YouTube and Facebook channels.  

Outlook: This is one of the best rivalries in the area. The Marauders have won the past five meetings, four by double digits. The Crusaders have a ton of returnees, including college-bound seniors such offensive linemen Jordan and Jaden Sandlin (FAU), lineman/tight end Cole Essek (Appalachian State) and defensive back DD Snyder (Illinois). CCC, meanwhile, had 20 players graduate from last year’s team and could start as many as 15 sophomores. Still, it is a talented and explosive group. 

Pinkos pick: Tampa Catholic by 3

Putnam’s prediction: Tampa Catholic 20-19

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Tampa Bay Tech at Steinbrenner, 7:30

Seating capacity: Game participants (athletes, cheerleaders, band members) were allowed to select four spectators and submit names by this past Wednesday. They must sit together. 

Masks: Required by all fans

Tickets: Online only through HillsboroughSchools.org/athletics

Live stream: Fans can watch for free at identitytb.com

Outlook: The key matchup will be the Warriors defense, led by lineman Garret Cates, linebackers Austin Brannen and TJ Hubbell and defensive back Matthew Durrance, going up against the Titans passing game, powered by quarterback David Wright and receivers Greg Gaines and Jamari Gassett. 

Pinkos pick: Tampa Bay Tech by 3

Putnam’s prediction: Tampa Bay Tech 27-21

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”12″]

Calvary Christian at Carrollwood Day, 7

Seating capacity: N/A

Masks: N/A

Tickets: N/A

Live stream: N/A

Outlook: The Patriots, winless last year, broke that streak by beating Northside Christian in last week’s season opener. The roster is completely different with Carrollwood Day benefitting from the addition of several high-profile transfers, including tight end Michael Trigg, a four-star prospect. Calvary Christian has just as much firepower with running back Kai Martin and receiver Richie Ilarraza, a Howard commit, both returning. It will be up to the defenses to stop this one from becoming a shootout. 

Pinko’s pick: Calvary Christian by 32

Putnam’s prediction: Calvary Christian 35-21

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”13″]

Gaither at Chamberlain, 7:30

Seating capacity: Game participants (athletes, cheerleaders, band members) were allowed to select four spectators and submit names by this past Wednesday. They must sit together. 

Masks: Required by all fans

Tickets: Online only through HillsboroughSchools.org/athletics

Live stream: NFHS Network 

Outlook: The rivals will play twice this year. This one was a late addition after their scheduled opponents, Jefferson and Hillsborough, had to cancel because of a player testing positive for coronavirus. The Cowboys 33-28 win last year snapped a two-game losing streak in the series.Jayden Mendez had a monster game with six catches for 158 yards and three touchdowns. The Chiefs’ Antony Guzman also played well, rushing for more than 90 yards and scoring twice.

Pinko’s pick: Gaither by 25

Putnam’s prediction: Gaither 30-21

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Fivay at River Ridge, 7:30

Seating capacity: There are a limited number of tickets guaranteed for each team. Fans are encouraged to go to their school’s website for more information. 

Masks: Required at all times

Tickets: gofan.com

Live stream: NFHS Network

Outlook: The Royal Knights are 5-1 in the series and have won the past four meetings, including three by shutouts. But the Falcons made dramatic improvements last season, going 7-3 and just missing the playoffs. Melvin Rivera, who had 112 tackles last season, returns at linebacker for Fivay and will be tasked with stopping River Ridge’s passing game, led by quarterback Trenton Hawks.

Pinkos pick: River Ridge by 20

Putnam’s prediction: River Ridge 34-19 

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”15″]

Pinellas Park at Largo, 7

Seating capacity: Reduced to 25 percent

Masks: Required and must be worn during the game

Tickets: Online only through www.gofan.co

Livestream: NFHS Network or for free at identitytb.com

Outlook: After years of playing in the spring, the two teams met in the regular season last year. The Patriots relied on their running game to win 22-18. Expect another heavy dose of the ground game by Pinellas Park, only this time it will be done by committee rather than with Lawrance Toafili, now a freshman at Florida State. It will be to the Gurney twins, Garrett and Connor, and Zayvion McCluster to stop them. 

Pinko’s pick: Largo by 3

Putnam’s prediction: Pinellas Park 14-13

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”16″]

Sunlake at Wesley Chapel, 7:30

Seating capacity: There are a limited number of tickets guaranteed for each team. Fans are encouraged to go to their school’s website for more information. 

Masks: Required at all times

Tickets: gofan.com

Live stream: NFHS Network

Outlook: This is one of the area’s most competitive series. The Seahawks lead the series 5-4, including shutouts the past two seasons. The Wildcats do come in with some momentum after winning four of their final six games last season. 

Pinkos pick: Wesley Chapel by 6

Putnam’s prediction: Wesley Chapel 20-14

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Sarasota Riverview at East Lake, 7:30

Seating capacity: Reduced to 25 percent

Masks: Required and must be worn during the game

Tickets: Online only through www.gofan.co

Livestream: NFHS Network

Outlook: The Eagles were supposed to play rival Palm Harbor University but had to switch opponents after a Hurricanes player tested positive for coronavirus. East Lake still is searching for a permanent replacement for quarterback Matt Trotto, who graduated. Four quarterbacks — Jake Bechtel, Mark Brady and Aidan MacLean — will all see playing time against the Rams.

Pinko’s pick: Riverview by 10

Putnam’s prediction: East Lake 21-17

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Durant at Newsome, 7:30

Seating capacity: Game participants (athletes, cheerleaders, band members) were allowed to select four spectators and submit names by this past Wednesday. They must sit together. 

Masks: Required by all fans

Tickets: Online only through HillsboroughSchools.org/athletics

Live stream: NFHS Network

Outlook: If you like running games, this is the rivalry game for you. The Wolves might be better equipped for that earthbound approach, thanks to the return of Jason Albritton, who ran for more than 1,400 yards last season.

Pinko’s pick: Newsome by 14

Putnam’s prediction: Newsome 27-14

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”19″]

Sickles at East Bay, 7:30

Seating capacity: Game participants (athletes, cheerleaders, band members) were allowed to select four spectators and submit names by this past Wednesday. They must sit together. 

Masks: Required by all fans

Tickets: Online only through HillsboroughSchools.org/athletics

Live stream: NFHS Network

Outlook: Last season’s meeting was a nailbiter with the Indians scoring a touchdown in the first half then holding for a 7-6 victory. This could be another low scoring affair. East Bay should be strong on defense with lineman Ethan Lyons and linebackers Nathan Carter, Jordan Kow and Greg Graham all returning. They will try to stop a Gryphons offense led by quarterback Brandon Dessi, running back Anthony Vega and linemen Nohl Settlemire and Luke Barrow.   

Pinko’s pick: East Bay by 3

Putnam’s prediction: East Bay 16-14

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”20″]

Clearwater Academy at Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy, 7

Outlook: It’s becoming a trend for area teams to travel to on powerhouse Brentwood Academy. Clearwater Central Catholic did it last year and lost. The Knights, who have a loaded roster, have the talent to win and help put their program on the national map. 

Pinko’s pick: Clearwater Academy by 7

Putnam’s prediction: Clearwater Academy 28-14

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”21″]

The remaining schedule

Keswick Christian at Bishop McLaughlin, 7

Pinko’s pick: Keswick Christian by 14

Putnam’s prediction: Keswick Christian 17-13

Zephyrills Christian at Bradenton Christian, 7

Pinko’s pick: Zephyrhills Christian by 3

Putnam’s prediction: Zephyrhills Christian 21-7

Cambridge Christian at Northside Christian, 7

Pinko’s pick: Cambridge Christian by 49

Putnam’s prediction: Cambridge Christian 28-21

Dunedin at St. Pete Catholic, 7

Pinko’s pick: Dunedin by 3

Putnam’s prediction: Dunedin 27-10 

Cypress Creek at Osceola, 7

Pinko’s pick: Cypress Creek by 7

Putnam’s prediction: Cypress Creek 21-7

Gibbs at Lakewood, 7

Pinko’s pick: Lakewood by 59

Putnam’s prediction: Lakewood 49-7

Wiregrass Ranch at St. Petersburg, 7

Pinko’s pick: Wiregrass Ranch by 28

Putnam’s prediction: Wiregrass Ranch 34-13

Leto at Alonso, 7:30

Pinko’s pick: Alonso by 20

Putnam’s prediction: Alonso 20-6

Middleton at Blake, 7:30

Pinko’s pick: Blake by 3

Putnam’s prediction: Middleton 14-12

Brandon at Robinson, 7:30

Pinko’s pick: Robinson by 21

Putnam’s prediction: Robinson 37-7

Wharton at Freedom, 7:30

Pinko’s pick: Wharton by 25

Putnam’s prediction: Wharton 33-14

Strawberry Crest at King, 7:30

Pinko’s pick: King by 14

Putnam’s prediction: King 7-6

Lennard at Plant, 7:30

Pinko’s pick: Plant by 4

Putnam’s prediction: Lennard 28-21

Riverview at Plant City, 7:30

Pinko’s pick: Plant City by 21

Putnam’s prediction: Plant City 35-13

Spoto at Sumner, 7:30

Pinko’s pick: Spoto by 21

Putnam’s prediction: Spoto 13-6

Anclote at Hudson, 7:30

Pinko’s pick: Anclote by 6

Putnam’s prediction: Anclote 21-20

Pasco at Auburndale, 7:30

Pinko’s pick: Auburndale by 31

Putnam’s prediction: Auburndale 24-10

Seffner Christian at Lakeland Christian, 7:30

Pinko’s pick: Lakeland Christian by 7

Putnam’s prediction: Lakeland Christian 28-14

Shorecrest at All Saints Academy, 7

Pinko’s pick: All Saints by 37

Putnam’s prediction: All Saints 42-21

Bell Creek Academy at Indian Rocks Christian, 7

Pinko’s pick: IRC by 19

Putnam’s prediction: IRC 30-21

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Tampa Bay Tech’s Rod Gainey transfers to IMG Academy

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Rod Gainey, one of the nation’s premier running backs in the Class of 2024, is leaving Tampa Bay Tech after one season to attend IMG Academy in Bradenton, Titans coach Jayson Roberts confirmed. 

As a freshman last season, Gainey rushed for 836 yards (7.7 per carry) and had 10 touchdowns on the ground to give Tampa Bay Tech’s high-powered passing game some balance. 

Already a youth league legend in Hillsborough County, Gainey’s performance in his debut high school season only solidified his stats as one of the county’s top recruits in his class. 

Gainey already has offers from Florida, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Penn State, Toledo, UCF, USF and West Virginia, among others. 

This is the second offseason the Titans have lost a star ball carrier to IMG. Last year, Stacey Gage, an incoming freshman at the time, said he was deciding between Tampa Bay Tech and IMG. He ultimately joined the Ascenders, who are a national powerhouse. 

Though the loss of Gainey hurts, Roberts said the ground game still is in solid shape thanks to an offensive line that returns all five starters — Kai Gadson, Shaun Lango, Fred Neal, DJ Porcher and J’shon Scott. And that list does not include Melvin Sylvester, a 6-foot-5, 270 pound incoming freshman who should get plenty of playing time. 

James Evans, John Ponder and Ronald Sims will now handle the bulk of the rushing load, Roberts said. 

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Football

Meet Lakewood’s queen of the block

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Melia Garcia knew all about the success of Lakewood’s athletic program before arriving this year as an advanced placement and honors world history teacher.

The subject that really piqued her interest was football. Discussions about the sport constantly came up, particularly among the players in her classes.

Garcia was hooked. She became one of the Spartans’ most ardent supporters, attending nearly every game.  

Still, Garcia grew tired of watching from the stands. So she came up with an idea that would allow her to be more directly involved with the program.

In January, Garcia asked Lakewood coach Cory Moore about joining the football staff. 

There were no double takes from Moore, despite Garcia having no previous coaching experience. 

“I knew she was serious about it,” Moore said. “And I welcomed it because I saw just how good of a teacher Melia is in the classroom and how well she interacted with her students.

“I thought that was exactly the kind of addition we could use on staff.”

At first, Moore had Garcia observe offseason conditioning so they could decide the best fit for her as an assistant. 

Garcia zeroed in on the trenches. 

She wanted to coach the offensive line. 

“That’s the one area I felt most passionate about,” Garcia said. 

Women have broken plenty of barriers to coach at the highest level of football. There are currently eight female coaches in the NFL, including two on the staff of the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar. 

Those trailblazers helped pave the way for other females to become coaches in the college and high school ranks.

Garcia admires what they have done, but insists that is not the sole reason she wanted to pursue a job as an assistant. 

“I really wanted to set my own boundaries,” she said. 

So Garcia created her path by instructing big-bodied students to pave the way for others on the offensive side of the ball. 

The bond with blockers grew from her friendship with Tyler Armillay, a former standout lineman from Scranton, Pa. who went to play at Assumption and is now the offensive line coach at Endicott College.

Their conversations would often be about life on the line. Armillay taught Garcia the fundamentals of pass protection and moving defenders out of the way in the run game.

Garcia felt she could do the same with her students. 

Before that could happen, she needed acceptance. Garcia worried how a bunch of teenage boys would react to a female instructing them on the field. 

Those concerns were quickly soothed.

“Once the guys could see that she knew what she was talking about, they had a great relationship,” Moore said. 

Garcia gets her point across because she knows how to teach.

“I think they wanted someone that was nurturing enough to not crush their spirit but tough enough to make sure they didn’t mess around,” Garcia said.  

Her involvement is not restricted to drawing Xs and Os on a board. During spring practice, Garcia stood among her pupils as they jabbed and punched. She talked about body balance and counterstrikes and proper footwork.

Often, Garcia demonstrated by getting in the middle of piles. 

“Melia is not just some bystander,” Moore said. “At practice, she is in the dirt, in the grind. She’s hands-on all the way.”

Isaiah Cooper, a three-year starter who has played every position on the Spartans’ offensive line, was impressed. 

“She’s phenomenal,” Cooper said of Garcia. “You couldn’t even tell she was new. There were some things I didn’t know, that she knew. And she knows how to listen and find ways to relay the information in ways that we’ll understand.”

Her impact is felt off the field, too. 

Moore made Garcia an academic advisor. Players are required to turn in progress reports, complete with signatures from the teachers. Those who fail to do so are not allowed to practice. 

“The grades were a little rough for some, and now they’ve improved tremendously,” Cooper said. “Everything has gone a lot more smoothly as far as academics.”

And they should continue to improve with Garcia running study hall this fall.

“Melia has far exceeded my expectations,” Moore said. “In the classroom. On the field. She does it all.

“She is the real deal.”

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College Football

Lakewood’s Amari Niblack commits to Alabama

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Lakewood’s Amari Niblack had offers from 15 schools entering this week, including Florida, Florida State, Georgia and LSU. 

Then Niblack went to a camp at Alabama and picked up an offer from the Crimson Tide. 

That was all the three-star prospect needed to make up his mind. 

On Thursday, Niblack announced on social media that he committed to Alabama. 

A 6-foot-4 pass catching target, Niblack can play receiver or tight end. This past season, he had seven receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns according to the stats listed on MaxPreps. 

This is the second straight season Alabama has landed an area receiver and the third time in the past five seasons the Crimson Tide has picked a local skill player.

Agiye Hall, who starred at Armwood and Bloomingdale, was part of the 2021 class. He was an early enrollee and has already made an impact with several highlight-worthy catches in the spring game. 

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