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Friday night football forecast

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Games to watch 

Wiregrass Ranch (2-2) at Mitchell (3-0), 7:30

Outlook: This is the most anticipated matchup of the year in Pasco County. The biggest dual is between the quarterbacks. Mitchell’s Ezra Brennan, the SAC’s Western Division player of the year last season, is off to another strong start. Wiregrass Ranch’s Rocco Becht already has several Div. I offers, including Iowa State, Toledo and Wake Forest. Two weeks ago, Becht tied a county record with six touchdown passes in a game. 

Pinkos’ pick: Mitchell by 10

Putnam’s prediction: Mitchell 21-20

Hernando (2-0) at Nature Coast (2-0), 7:30

Outlook: This one likely is for Hernando County supremacy. Both have been dominant to start the season. The Leopards have outscored their first two opponents by a combined 68-0. The Sharks won their first two by a combined 110-7. The key will be stopping the playmakers on either side. Hernando’s Contae Cason has rushed for 333 yards and has seven touchdowns. Nature Coast quarterback Ethan Fahey has completed all 10 of his passes for 192 yards and six touchdowns. 

Pinkos’ pick: Nature Coast by 9

Putnam’s prediction: Hernando 20-13

Clearwater Central Catholic (2-2)  at Jesuit (5-0), 7:30

Outlook: Throw out the records. After all, the Marauders are the one area team that has given the Tigers fits in recent years. CCC had won three straight in the series until Jesuit snapped that streak with a victory over its rival last season.  

Pinkos’ pick: Jesuit by 17

Putnam’s prediction: Jesuit 24-17

Plant City (1-2) at Tampa Bay Tech (2-2), 7:30

Outlook: Both teams need a win. The Raiders have lost two straight. The Titans snapped a two-game losing streak with last week’s win over East Bay. There should be plenty of points produced with a pair of high-octane offenses. 

Pinkos’ pick: Tampa Bay Tech by 7

Putnam’s prediction: Tampa Bay Tech 31-23

The remaining schedule

Lakeside Christian at Master’s Academy, 6 p.m.

Pinkos’ pick: N/A

Putnam’s prediction: Lakeside Christian 28-14 

Lakewood Ranch at Gulf, 6:30

Pinkos’ pick: Lakewood Ranch by 54

Putnam’s prediction: Lakewood Ranch 49-0

Foundation Academy at Northside Christian, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Foundation Academy by 31

Putnam’s prediction: Foundation Academy 35-21

Pinellas Park at Clearwater, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Clearwater by 10

Putnam’s prediction: Clearwater 21-19

St. Petersburg Catholic at Bradenton St. Stephen’s, 7

Pinkos’ pick: St. Stephen’s by 6 

Putnam’s prediction: St. Petersburg Catholic 28-26

River Ridge at East Lake, 7

Pinkos’ pick: N/A

Putnam’s prediction: River Ridge 14-13 

Indian Rocks Christian at Keswick Christian, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Keswick Christian by 4

Putnam’s prediction: Keswick Christian 24-20

Academy at the Lakes at Gainesville Oak Hall, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Oak Hall by 6

Putnam’s prediction: Academy at the Lakes 28-21

South Lake at Anclote, 7

Pinkos’ pick: South Lake by 18

Putnam’s prediction: South Lake 30-14

St. Petersburg at Tarpon Springs, 7

Pinkos’ pick: St. Petersburg by 14

Putnam’s prediction: St. Petersburg 20-6

Merritt Island Christian at Shorecrest, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Shorecrest by 1

Putnam’s prediction: Shorecrest 21-20

Dade Christian at Calvary Christian, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Calvary Christian by 16

Putnam’s prediction: Calvary Christian 31-17

Lakeland Victory Christian at Berkeley Prep, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Berkeley Prep by 4

Putnam’s prediction: Berkeley Prep 14-10

Lakeland Christian at Carrollwood Day, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Lakeland Christian by 21

Putnam’s prediction: Lakeland Christian 28-24

Seffner Christian at Cambridge Christian, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Cambridge Christian by 3 

Putnam’s prediction: Cambridge Christian 20-16

Steinbrenner at Gainesville Buchholz, 7

Pinkos’ pick: N/A

Putnam’s prediction: Steinbrenner 35-28

Dunedin at Northeast, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Northeast by 19

Putnam’s prediction: Northeast 35-21

Bishop McLaughlin at Lakeland Santa Fe, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Bishop McLaughlin by 15

Putnam’s prediction: Bishop McLaughlin 28-14

Newsome at Lennard, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Newsome by 10

Putnam’s prediction: Newsome 14-13

Fivay at Wesley Chapel, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Fivay by 6

Putnam’s prediction: Wesley Chapel 21-14

Riverview at East Bay, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: East Bay by 6 

Putnam’s prediction: East Bay 21-20

Zephyrhills at Cypress Creek, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: N/A

Putnam’s prediction: Zephyrhills 26-21 

Chamberlain at Gaither, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Gaither by 21

Putnam’s prediction: Gaither 30-6

Blake at Spoto, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Blake by 10

Putnam’s prediction: Blake 20-14

Freedom at Alonso, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Alonso by 27

Putnam’s prediction: Alonso 28-6

Pasco at Land O’ Lakes, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Pasco by 18

Putnam’s prediction: Pasco 27-14

Durant at Bloomingdale, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Bloomingdale by 31

Putnam’s prediction: Bloomingdale 35-7

Sumner at Leto, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Sumner by 31

Putnam’s prediction: Sumner 28-6

Zephyrhills Christian at Hudson, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Zephyrhills Christian by 23

Putnam’s prediction: Zephyrhills Christian 31-16

Weeki Wachee at Springstead, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Springstead by 21

Putnam’s prediction: Springstead 16-14

Citrus at Central, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Citrus by 24

Putnam’s prediction: Citrus 28-7

Brandon at Hillsborough, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Hillsborough by 52

Putnam’s prediction: Hillsborough 56-7

Jefferson at King, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Jefferson by 16

Putnam’s prediction: Jefferson 30-14

Wharton at Middleton, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Middleton by 6

Putnam’s prediction: Wharton 14-7

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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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