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PTP 15: Football rankings for Hillsborough County

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1. Gaither (2-0)

Up next: at Fivay

Last spot: No. 1 

After beating Tampa Bay Tech by 20 points two weeks, the Cowboys started to get some national exposure. They are ranked No. 35 in the nation and No. 6 overall in the state by MaxPreps. Against the Titans, Kiael Kelly accounted for three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) and Ricky Parks added two scores on the ground. The defense applied the pressure with five sacks, including two by Mario Eugenio and Willie Jackson Jr. Gaither, which was idle this past week, has a great shot to be undefeated when it faces Armwood on Oct. 23. After all, the Cowboys’ next four opponents are a combined 2-4. 

2. Bloomingdale (2-0)

Up next: at Plant City

Last spot: No. 2 

The Bulls did not just knock off two of the area’s top teams, Armwood and Tampa Bay Tech, to start the season. They did it with a flair for the dramatic. Against the Hawks in the season opener, Bloomingdale’s Philip Riley returned a kickoff in the fourth quarter to cap off the rally in a 15-14 victory. That was nothing compared to this past week. Down 22-0 in the third quarter to TBT, the Bulls mounted a furious comeback that ended when Tre Simmons lofted a 33-yard touchdown to Agiye Hall on the final play of regulation for a wild 25-22 win. Hall, an Alabama commit, got into position before outleaping three other defenders for the game-ending catch. 

3. Armwood (2-1)

Up next: at Wiregrass Ranch 

Last spot: No. 3 

Week by week, the Hawks keep getting better. After a frustrating one-point loss to Bloomingdale in the season opener, Armwood has won its past two by a combined 101-17. The latest rout (56-10) came against Hillsborough. Cam’Ron Ransom threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more. The special teams and defense also contributed with scores. 

4. Jesuit (4-0)

Up next: vs. Chamberlain

Last spot: No. 4 

Sure, the Tigers won by double digits to remain undefeated. But the 25-14 victory over Berkeley Prep was a struggle. Jesuit had to overcome four turnovers and rally from a 14-0 second quarter deficit. Joe Pesansky showed his resolve, throwing for 205 yards. So did the running game, which grinded out 183 yards, including 112 and two scores from Joquez Smith. 

5. Tampa Catholic (3-0)

Up next: vs. Berkeley Prep 

Last spot: No. 7

The Crusaders have been dominant, winning their first three games by a combined 113-14. Last week, the offense showed some balance in a 35-7 victory over Zephyrhills. Xavione Washington threw for 201 and three touchdowns, all to AJ Williams. Tampa Catholic also ran for 341. Raphael Ekechi had the biggest night with 160 yards and a touchdown on the ground.  

6. Plant City (1-1)

Up next: vs. Bloomingdale

Last spot: No. 6

The Raiders were idle last week, giving them more time to prepare for one of their toughest tests of the season. Plant City’s offense, which is averaging 35 points per game, will go up against a Bloomingdale secondary that ranks among the area’s best. The game also is matchup between two of the best receivers in the country, the Raiders Mario Williams (an Oklahoma commit) and the Bulls’ Agiye Hall (Alabama). 

7. Tampa Bay Tech 1-2)

Up next: at East Bay: 

Last spot: No. 5

For just more than a half, everything went right for the Titans against Bloomingdale. David Wright threw a pair of touchdown passes. Rod Gainey returned a kickoff for a score. The defense was stifling. The result was a 22-point lead. Then things began to unravel. A once insurmountable lead started to slip away until eventually it was gone after a desperation heave on the final play resulted in Bulls touchdown. Though Tampa Bay Tech lost 25-22, it can take consolation in knowing it stayed with one of the area’s best teams until the end. 

8. Berkeley Prep (0-1)

Up next: at Tampa Catholic

Last spot: No. 8 

It would be tough to drop the Buccaneers. They played their first game this past week and gave unbeaten Jesuit everything it could handle before wearing down in the second half of a 25-14 loss. Gavin Rupp threw for two touchdown passes and an opportunistic defense picked off four passes. The schedule does not get any easier with Berkeley Prep with another undefeated rival, Tampa Catholic, on Friday. 

9. Newsome (1-0)

Up next: vs. Riverview

Last spot: No. 9

COVID-related issues forced the Wolves to remain idle for the last two weeks. They return this week to face Riverview. The running game, which averaged 5.2 yards per carry in a season-opening win over Durant, could have continued success against a Riverview team that gave up more than 500 yards on offense to Plant City in the opener.

10. Chamberlain (1-1)

Up next: at Jesuit

Last spot: No. 10

The Chiefs, who were idle last week, return to face one of their biggest nemesis. Last year, Chamberlain lost twice by double digits to Jesuit, including the Class 5A region final. To reverse the outcome, the Chiefs likely rely on the running of Antony Guzman, who more than 100 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Bradenton Bayshore two weeks ago.  

11. Steinbrenner (1-1)

Up next: vs. Plant (Oct. 9)

Last spot: No. 11

The Warriors’ game against Newsome was cancelled two weeks ago and they are on bye weeks, giving them plenty of time to prepare for a pivotal showdown with Plant. Last season’s win in the series was a historic one for Steinbrenner. Not only was it the first the program had ever beaten the Panthers but it also marked the first time Plant had lost a district game in 14 years.  

12. Jefferson (2-0)

Up next: vs. Hillsborough

Last spot: No. 13 

The defense reached the end zone almost as many times as the offense in last week’s 53-0 win over Spoto. Eric Felder returned interceptions for touchdowns and CJ Lewis added two more defensive scores. Jefferson is adept at keeping opponents out of the end zone, too. The Dragons have shut out their first two opponents, though that streak will be tough to maintain this week against Hillsborough. 

13. Hillsborough (0-1)

Up next: at Jefferson

Last spot: No. 12

After spending two weeks in quarantine, the Terriers opened their season by playing defending state semifinalist Armwood. The rust showed in a 56-10 loss. Hillsborough will try to regroup against Jefferson, a team the Terriers have beaten in each of the past seasons. 

14. Robinson (3-0)

Up next: vs. Sarasota Booker

Last spot: No. 14

The Knights have already equaled last year’s win total. Myron Thomas threw for three touchdowns and Arkese Parks had 118 yards of offense (62 rushing, 56 receiving) and added three more scores in a win over Freedom that helped Robinson stay perfect on the season. 

15. Lennard (2-0)

Up next: at Sarasota Riverview

Last spot: No. 15

Gavin Henley threw for 171 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Longhorns in a 21-3 win over Alonso last week. Lennard’s perfect start will be tested this week with a matchup against Sarasota Riverview. 

On the bubble

Carrollwood Day (2-1), Wharton (2-0), Sumner (3-0), Durant (2-1), Cambridge Christian (3-0). 

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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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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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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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