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Prime Time Super Seven: Football rankings for Pasco County

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Because of the abbreviated schedule, the midpoint of the season is fast approaching. By the end of this week, every Pasco County team will have played at least one game. Starting sports have been sorted out. Mechanics are improving. And now it is time to start thinking about possible runs in the postseason. Here are the latest rankings. 

1. Mitchell (1-0)

Up next: vs. Cypress Creek

Last spot: No. 1 

The Mustangs started slow last week. That was to be expected considering it was their opener. But it did not take too long before everything started to click. Mitchell scored a combined 35 points in the second and third quarter, more than enough to cruise to a 42-12 victory over Pinellas Park that avenged a loss from last season. Ezra Brennan threw for 181 yards and the running game totaled 246. The defense had its moments, too. Cole Castro, a transfer from River Ridge who had an area-best 10 interceptions last year, started off this season by picking off a pass, one of three turnovers the Mustangs forced.   

2. Wiregrass Ranch (1-1)

Up next: at River Ridge

Last spot: No. 2 

Locked in a defensive slugfest last week, the Bulls lost in heartbreaking fashion. Clearwater Central Catholic running back Lenwood Sapp scored on a 3-yard run in the final of regulation to beat Wiregrass Ranch 14-7. Despite the loss, there were some bright spots. Bulls running back Kenneth Walker ran for 121 yards and linebacker Matt Hensley Jr. recorded 13 tackles and two sacks. Next up is an anticipated showdown with River Ridge. 

3. River Ridge (2-0)

Up next: vs. Wiregrass Ranch

Last spot: No. 3 

Another week. Another shutout. The latest one was a 41-0 rout over Tarpon Springs that was all but over by halftime. So far this season, River Ridge has outscored foes by a combined 54-0. In the last two seasons, the Royals Knights have also blanked opponents five times. Keeping that shutout streak could be tough this week against Wiregrass Ranch. 

4. Wesley Chapel (1-0)

Up next: at Hudson

Last spot: No. 4 

The Wildcats had last week’s game cancelled and were set to be idle for two straight weeks until they picked up a game against Hudson. To stay undefeated, Wesley Chapel has to contain Cobras the rushing attack, which grinded out 280 yards two weeks ago against Anclote. 

5. Zephyrhills (0-0)

Up next: vs. Tampa Catholic

Last spot: No. 5

After two weeks of quarantining — and two game cancellations — because of a player testing positive for coronavirus, the Bulldogs hit the field for their season opener. It is not the easiest way to start. Zephyrhills has to shake off the rust against the undefeated Crusaders, who have outscored their first two opponents by a combined 78-7. 

6. Pasco (1-1)

Up next: vs. Dixie Hollins

Last spot: No. 6 

The Pirates bounced back from a season-opening loss to Auburndale in a big way, beating Cypress Creek 35-0. Devin Jernigan showed off his big play potential in the passing game with three catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. He displayed it on the ground, too, adding 34 rushing yards and another score. 

7. Bishop McLaughlin (2-0)

Up next: at Seven Rivers Christian

Last spot: Unranked

The Hurricanes, under first-year coach Ken Stills, have already surpassed last year’s total and are 2-0 for the first time since 2016. One reason for their fast start is the play of quarterback Adrian Miller. Last week, the junior had 316 yards of offense (138 passing, 168 rushing) and accounted for four touchdowns. 

On the bubble

Hudson (1-0), Cypress Creek (1-1), Zephyrhills Christian Academy (2-1) 

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Football

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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