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Friday night football forecast

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Games to watch

Berkeley Prep at Jesuit, 7:30

Outlook: The most interesting storyline is Buccaneers coach Dominick Ciao returning to play the Tigers for the first time since his departure in 2002. This is Berkeley Prep’s first game. The lengthy layoff could be a major factor considering Jesuit has already played three games. 

Pinkos’ pick: Jesuit by 10

Putnam’s prediction: Jesuit 24-10

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Plantation American Heritage at Clearwater, 7

Live stream: Fans can watch for free at Identity Tampa Bay (Friday Night Prime Time).

Outlook: The Tornadoes are not afraid to play anyone. This game is proof of that. Clearwater added the state powerhouse earlier this month to fill out a schedule that is among the toughest in the state. After all, the first six games on the Tornadoes’ schedule are all against teams that made the playoffs a year ago. 

Pinkos’ pick: American Heritage by 24

Putnam’s prediction: American Heritage 27-20

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”10″]

Bloomingdale at Tampa Bay Tech, 7:30

Outlook: The Titans passing game will be tested once again. This time Tampa Bay Tech quarterback David Wright faces a secondary that includes three players who have already committed to colleges — Philip Riley (Notre Dame), Britton Pascoe (North Dakota State) and Jayden Williams (FAU). 

Pinkos’ pick: Bloomingdale by 6

Putnam’s prediction: Bloomingdale 21-14

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”11″]

Wiregrass Ranch at River Ridge, 7:30

Outlook: Two of the top three teams in Pasco County square off. The Bulls have some incentive, especially after losing to Clearwater Central Catholic last week. The Royal Knights, meanwhile, are looking for some payback after losing last year’s meeting 35-7. Expect a low scoring game between two stingy defenses. 

Pinkos’ pick: Wiregrass Ranch by 14

Putnam’s prediction: Wiregrass Ranch 20-13

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”12″]

The remaining schedule

Hillsborough at Armwood, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Armwood by 27

Putnam’s prediction: Armwood 34-14

Cypress Creek at Mitchell, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Mitchell by 54

Putnam’s prediction: Mitchell 35-13

Tampa Catholic at Zephyrhills, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Tampa Catholic by 49

Putnam’s prediction: Tampa Catholic 35-16

Lakewood at Braden River, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Lakewood by 21

Putnam’s prediction: Lakewood 28-20

Sebring at Clearwater Central Catholic, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Sebring by 6

Putnam’s prediction: CCC 14-6

Plant at Sickles, 7:30 

Pinkos’ pick: Plant by 17

Putnam’s prediction: Sickles 21-20 

Boca Ciega at Seminole, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Boca Ciega by 17

Putnam’s prediction: Boca Ciega 27-14

Central at Nature Coast, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Nature Coast by 35

Putnam’s prediction: Nature Coast 49-14

Calvary Christian at IMG White, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Calvary Christian by 1 

Putnam’s prediction: Calvary Christian 28-21

Carrollwood Day at Fort White, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Carrollwood Day by 1

Putnam’s prediction: Carrollwood Day 24-20

Northeast at Osceola, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Northeast by 14

Putnam’s prediction: Northeast 21-7

Weeki Wachee at Citrus, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Citrus by 16 

Putnam’s prediction: Citrus 35-20

East Lake at Palatka, 7

Pinkos’ pick: N/A

Putnam’s prediction: East Lake 34-7 

Sumner at Strawberry Crest, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Sumner by 17

Putnam’s prediction: Sumner 17-6

Spoto at Jefferson, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Jefferson by 31

Putnam’s prediction: Jefferson 49-0

Fivay at Anclote, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Fivay by 31

Putnam’s prediction: Fivay 42-21

East Bay at Durant, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Durant by 10

Putnam’s prediction: East Bay 14-13

Largo at Palmetto, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Palmetto by 38

Putnam’s prediction: Palmetto 28-16

Crystal River at Hernando, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Hernando by 7

Putnam’s prediction: Hernando 27-18

Hollins at Pasco, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Hollins by 8

Putnam’s prediction: Hollins 21-13

King at Blake, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: King by 1

Putnam’s prediction: Blake 13-12 

Middleton at Brandon, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Middleton by 38

Putnam’s prediction: Middleton 35-6

Wesley Chapel at Hudson, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: N/A

Putnam’s prediction: Wesley Chapel 17-13 

Robinson at Freedom, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Robinson by 39

Putnam’s prediction: Robinson 45-6

Alonso at Lennard, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Lennard by 32

Putnam’s prediction: Lennard 42-6

Cambridge Christian at Evangelical Christian, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Cambridge by 31

Putnam’s prediction: Cambridge 38-14 

Santa Fe Catholic at Keswick Christian, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Santa Fe by 3

Putnam’s prediction: Keswick Christian 21-16

Bishop McLaughlin at Seven Rivers Christian, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Bishop McLaughlin by 15

Putnam’s prediction: Bishop McLaughlin 28-14

Zephyrhills Christian at Crescent City, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Zephyrhills Christian by 10

Putnam’s prediction: Zephyrhills Christian 24-14

Seffner Christian at NFEI, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Seffner Christian by 32

Putnam’s prediction: Seffner Christian 30-13

Lakeside Christian at Shorecrest, 7

Pinkos’ pick: N/A

Putnam’s prediction: Lakeside 20-14 

American Collegiate at Jordan Christian Prep

Pinkos’ pick: American Collegiate by 20

Putnam’s prediction: American Collegiate 31-10

Bell Creek Academy at All Saints’ Academy, 7

Pinkos’ pick: All Saints by 48

Putnam’s prediction: All Saints 35-21

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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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