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PTP 10: Football rankings for Pinellas County

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1. Lakewood (3-0)

Up next: vs. Osceola (Oct. 15)

Last spot: No. 1

The Spartans have won 13 straight regular season games, a streak that dates back to 2018 and is currently the longest among area teams. They kept it going last week thanks to their defense. Aumhyraun Brown returned an interception for a touchdown in a 10-3 win over Braden River. Lakewood has allowed a combined nine points in the first three games. 

2. Clearwater (1-2)

Up next: at Clearwater Central Catholic

Last spot: No. 2

The Tornadoes’ two losses have come against Jesuit and Plantation American Heritage, which are both ranked among the top 20 in the state regardless of classification by MaxPreps. Because of that, Clearwater stays put. Another challenge awaits this week when Clearwater travels to take on city rival Clearwater Central Catholic. 

3. Calvary Christian (3-0)

Up next: vs. Sarasota Cardinal Mooney

Last spot: No. 3  

Big plays have been a staple in the Warriors perfect start. Take last week. Makkah Jordan ran 74 yards for a touchdown and London Hall returned a kickoff 99 yards for another score in a 42-16 win over IMG White. 

4. Clearwater Academy (0-2)

Up next: at Jacksonville Sandalwood

Last spot: No. 4

After lengthy road trips the first two weeks of the season, the Knights returned home for a much-needed two week break. Both losses were to a pair of quality opponents.The road show continues with another tough matchup at Jacksonville Sandalwood this week. 

5. Boca Ciega (1-1)

Up next: vs. St. Petersburg

Last spot: No. 5

Down by nine points early in the first half, Boca Ciega came storming back to beat previously unbeaten Seminole 54-9. Taffrey Peterman threw for 215 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 52. On defense, Evan Graham had a monster game. The Georgia State commit had 13 tackles, three sacks, an interception that was returned for a touchdown and a forced fumble. 

6. East Lake (2-1)

Up next: vs. Mitchell

Last spot: No. 7 

Since losing to Sarasota Riverview in the season opener, the Eagles have recorded two straight shutouts. The latest came in a 30-0 win over Palatka. It was a balanced effort on both sides of the ball. Nine players had at one carry or reception. And there were 12 players who made at least one tackle.  

7. Countryside (3-0)

Up next: at Largo (Thursday)

Last spot: No. 8

Last week’s 13-10 double overtime victory over Palm Harbor University was not pretty. The Cougars turned the ball over four times and trailed most of the game. But they showed their resolve by scoring in the fourth quarter to force overtime before winning. Colin Krueger led the defense with 11 tackles and a sack. 

8. Clearwater Central Catholic (1-2)

Up next: vs. Clearwater

Last spot: No. 6

The rough start was to be expected considering how many underclassmen the Marauders are starting on both sides of the ball. Part of the problem is a lack of scoring. CCC has put up a combined 29 points in the first three games. It does not get any easier against Clearwater in a game both teams need to win. 

9. Pinellas Park (1-1)

Up next: at Leto

Last spot: No. 9

The Patriots, who return from their bye week, should have no problem getting above .500 this week. Pinellas Park’s running game should also get back on track against the Falcons, who allowed more than 40 points in each of their first two games.  

10. Seminole (2-1)

Up next: at Osceola (Thursday)

Last spot: No. 10

After their first 2-0 start in more than a decade, the Warhawks came back to earth with a loss to Boca Ciega last week. Seminole will try to bounce back against winless Osceola in the biggest rivalry game of the season. There is plenty of incentive for the Warhawks, who have lost each of the past two meetings by a point. 

On the bubble

Largo (0-3), Gibbs (1-2)

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Iowa State now a hotspot for local football recruits

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Since arriving at Iowa State five years ago, Matt Campbell has guided the program to four straight bowl appearances, including a Fiesta Bowl win this past season that vaulted the Cyclones to No. 9 in the final AP poll, the highest ranking in school history. 

That success is due in part to the talent accumulated in Florida, especially the Tampa Bay area. 

There are currently five local players on the roster, all of whom were recruited by Campbell’s staff. Anthony Johnson, a former standout at St. Petersburg, starts at cornerback. Two other defensive backs, T.J. Tampa (Lakewood) and Kym-Mani King (Mitchell), should get significant playing time this season. 

It does not end there. 

This offseason Iowa State had perhaps its biggest haul of local talent with three offensive stars — Wiregrass Ranch quarterback Rocco Becht, Tampa Bay Tech receiver Greg Gaines III and Berkeley Prep athlete Xavier Townsend — all committing to the Cyclones as part of the 2022 class.  

Gaines is a four-star recruit while Becht and Townsend are both three-star prospects according to 247Sports. The addition of that trio helped the Cyclones’ current recruiting class rise to No. 5 in the Big 12 and No. 23 nationally. 

The recruiting efforts are not just limited to the staff. Becht, who committed in April, said he tried his best to get more offensive talent from the area to join him. 

“I talked to Greg and Xavier everyday,” Becht said of his recruiting pitch to that duo. “I was on them from the beginning.”

Rocco Becht

Iowa State’s staff also zeroed on those targets — and the area.

“The Tampa Bay area is a huge priority,” said Cyclones assistant head coach/linebackers coach Tyson Veidt, who recruits locally. “Some of our best players are from there and it has helped us develop some all-around continuity.”

Iowa State has a knack for landing playmakers in the bay area, particularly on the defensive side. It started more than a decade ago with linebacker Jeremiah George (Clearwater) and defensive back Leonard Johnson (Largo), both of whom played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their NFL careers. 

There has been even more of an emphasis on the area with Campbell and his staff.

That comes from experience. 

Before taking over the Cyclones, Campbell was an offensive coordinator (2009-11) and head coach (2012-15) at Toledo. During his time with the Rockets, the program landed several prospects from the area, including former Lakewood star Bernard Reedy, who went on to play in the NFL. 

In fact, Campbell had at least one local commit in each of his recruiting classes as Toledo’s head coach. That helped the Rockets rank among the top two recruiting classes in the MAC in three of the four years during Campbell’s tenure. 

The trend has continued at Iowa State. 

And it is having an impact, especially with the camaraderie among locals. 

“Well, of course, the decision was for me and my future as a student athlete,” said Townsend, who committed to the Cyclones on Sunday. “But it was icing on the cake knowing a couple of my boys are coming up with me.”

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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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