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Friday night rewind

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Scoreboard

Mitchell 42, Wiregrass Ranch 14

Nature Coast 34, Hernando 28

Plant City 43, Tampa Bay Tech 42

Jesuit 45, Clearwater Central Catholic 10

Berkeley Prep 41, Lakeland Victory Christian 35

Bloomingdale 30, Durant 0

East Lake 20, River Ridge 16

Newsome 26, Lennard 7

Gaither 27, Chamberlain 0

Clearwater 19, Pinellas Park 6

East Bay 41, Riverview 35

Weeki Wachee 13, Springstead 6

Zephyrhills 35, Cypress Creek 7

Calvary Christian 31, Dade Christian 14

Hillsborough 72, Brandon 0

Wharton 19, Middleton 0

Fivay 14, Wesley Chapel 7

Jefferson 40, King 30

Sumner 22, Leto 7

Jefferson 40, King 30

Pasco 7, Land O’ Lakes 6

Gainesville Buchholz 48, Steinbrenner 28

Cambridge Christian 21, Seffner Christian 13

St. Petersburg 16, Tarpon Springs 0

Zephyrhills Christian 42, Hudson 9

Groveland South Lake 42, Anclote 3

Lakewood Ranch 59, Gulf 12

Alonso 47, Freedom 12

Lakeland Christian 44, Carrollwood Day 14

Bradenton Saint Stephen’s 52, St. Petersburg Catholic 49

Bishop McLaughlin 40, Lakeland Santa Fe 27

Foundation Academy 34, Northside Christian 14

Indian Rocks Christian 35, Keswick Christian 19

Spoto 10, Blake 7

Citrus 19, Central 0

Prime time teams

Clearwater: After falling to 1-3, the Tornadoes were in desperate need of a win to boost confidence. They got that against Pinellas Park thanks in large part to their defense. 

East Lake: The Eagles showed their resolve, bouncing back from a shutout loss to Mitchell by rallying to beat River Ridge. 

Fivay: Led by an opportunistic defense, the Falcons beat previously undefeated Wesley Chapel 14-7 to snap a four-game losing streak in the series. 

Mitchell: In a battle between the top teams in Pasco County, the Mustangs showed off their dominance in a resounding win over Wiregrass Ranch. 

Nature Coast: The Sharks averaged a loss to rival Hernando by getting off to a fast start then holding on for the win in a matchup of unbeatens. 

Plant City: Down 12 with three minutes remaining, the Raiders rallied to stun Tampa Bay Tech. The winning score came on a touchdown run by quarterback Nick Felice with no time remaining. 

Weeki Wachee: The Hornets have never had a winning season. That might change, especially after they beat Springstead for the first time in school history. 

Zephyrhills: It has been a rough start for the Bulldogs, who were idle the first two weeks of the season before losing two straight. Zephyrhills overcame those struggles to beat Cypress Creek for its first win of the season. 

Prime time performers

LB Jaeden Atkins, Jr., Calvary Christian: Played a key role in a dominating defensive effort by returning an interception for a touchdown in the win over Miami Dade Christian. 

RB Jason Albritton, Jr., Newsome: The hard-nosed runner had 91 yards on the ground and scored twice in a win over Lennard. 

WR Maguire Anderson, Sr., Mitchell: The top return specialist in Pasco County, who already had two punt returns for touchdowns entering Friday, took the opening kickoff back for a score to set the tone in a win over Wiregrass Ranch. 

WR Reagan Ealy, Sr., Plant City: The dependable target had a career night with 12 receptions for 220 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Tampa Bay Tech 

QB Nick Felice, Sr., Plant City: Went 30-of-38 for 423 yards and five touchdowns and scored the game-winner on a short run with no time remaining to complete a wild comeback against Tampa Bay Tech.

LB/DB Demetrius Garland, Sr., Clearwater: Led a stellar defensive performance by returning an interception for a touchdown in a win over Pinellas Park.

WR Agiye Hall, Sr., Bloomingdale: The Alabama commit had touchdown catches that went for 69 and 82 yards in the first quarter that helped the Bulls build a comfortable lead in a win over Durant. 

ATH Kinyatah Morgan, Sr., Nature Coast: Known more as a defensive standout, Morgan showed he can score in a variety of ways by taking a kickoff back for a touchdown and scoring on a reverse in a win over Hernando. 

DL Jeremiah Ross, Sr., Newsome: Coming off the edge, Ross caused havoc, finishing with three sacks against Lennard. 

ATH Junior Vandeross, Jr., Jesuit: The electrifying playmaker had two touchdown receptions and returned a punt for another score in the win over CCC. 

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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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