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Friday night rewind

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The scoreboard

Jesuit 55, Robinson 14

Tampa Bay Tech 48, Armwood 47

Calvary Christian 35, Victory Christian 14

Tampa Catholic 34, Winter Haven 26

Wiregrass Ranch 53, East Bay 21

Plant City 30, Strawberry 0

St. Petersburg Catholic 49, Sarasota Out-of-Door 42

Cambridge Christian 42, Jordan Christian Prep 0

Indian Rocks Christian 35, Santa Fe Catholic 7

Jefferson 57, Brandon 0

Zephyrhills 20, North Florida Educational 12

Carrollwood Day 59, AAC 18

East Lake 46, Sickles 28

Tarpon Springs 16, Gulf 0

Chaminade 44, Clearwater Academy 34

Clearwater 27, Countryside 7

Nature Coast 15, Springstead 3

CCC 16, Cardinal Mooney 13

Crystal River 46, Central 0

Dunedin 49, Cypress Creek 28

Seffner Christian 42, Avon Park 0

Pinellas Park 29, Sunlake 0

Mitchell 42, Leto 8

Ridge Community 44, Lennard 22

Hillsborough 62, Spoto 0

Palm Harbor University 26, Plant 0

Bloomingdale 43, Kathleen 6

CFCA 55, Bishop McLaughlin 14

Bradenton Christian 59, Northside Christian 20

Gaither 56, Land O’ Lakes 0

Lake Minneola 41, Pasco 3

AATL 20, Shorecrest 13

King 14, Middleton 10

Lecanto 26, Weeki Wachee 21

Chamberlain 29, Gibbs 14

Steinbrenner 45, Blake 12

River Ridge 39, Wesley Chapel 10

Zephyrhills 48, Anclote 0

Wharton 44, Alonso 17

Lakeland 35, Durant 0

Hudson 48, Parrish 12

Hernando 44, Citrus 6

Fivay 36, Freedom 20

Newsome 64, Haines City 13

Prime time teams

Tampa Bay Tech: After losing to Bloomingdale and Plant City each on the final play of regulation, the Titans finally pulled one out on the last play, beating Armwood 48-47. Tampa Bay did it by rallying from a 20-point halftime deficit. It marks the second time in the past four years the Titans have knocked off the Hawks. 

Jesuit: A battle of unbeatens turned out to be no contest as the Tigers rolled to a 55-6 halftime lead before putting on the breaks in a 55-14 win over Robinson. Six of Jesuit’s seven wins have been by double digits. Though the final three regular season games are on the road, the Tigers have a good shot at staying undefeated heading into the playoffs. 

Calvary Christian: In what was their biggest test of the season, the Warriors jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead on defending Class 2A state semifinalist Lakeland Victory Christian and cruised to a 35-14 win to remain undefeated. 

Pinellas Park: After losing two of their last three games, the Patriots bounced back with a 29-0 win over Sunlake to get above .500. The key was a rushing attack that racked up more than 300 yards. 

Gaither: The Cowboys have posted three straight shutouts and have given up a combined 20 points all season. That unit was so dominant, it allowed Land O’ Lakes to reach midfield just once in a 56-0 victory.  

River Ridge: The Royal Knights success is due in large part to their defense. In River Ridge’s four wins this season, it has allowed just 16 points. 

Tampa Catholic: In their first game since losing to rival Berkeley Prep, the Crusaders bounced back in a big way, beating Winter Haven 34-24. The defense led the way by picking off four passes. 

Wharton: Under first-year coach Mike Williams, the Wildcats are off to one of their best starts in school history. Defense is a big reason for the 5-0 start. Wharton has allowed just 23 points all season.  

Prime time performers

RB/DB Austin Blanford, Sr., Fivay: Not only did Blanford have 10 tackles on defense, but he also ran for a touchdown and returned a punt for another score in a win over Freedom

RB Jyree Dodson, Dunedin: Rushed for 220 yards on 11 carries in a win over Cypress Creek

RB Kai Martin, Sr., Calvary Christian: Ran for two touchdowns in a win over Lakeland Victory Christian. 

DL Mykel McBurrows, Sr., Pinellas Park: Recorded four sacks in a win over Sunlake

QB Enzo Tedesco, Sr., Chamberlain: Threw for two touchdowns in a win over Gibbs

QB Cam’Ron Ransom, Sr., Armwood: The Georgia Southern commit threw for six touchdowns and ran for another in a loss to Tampa Bay Tech

QB Joe Pesansky, Sr., Jesuit: Completed 11 of his 14 passes for 323 and two touchdowns and ran for another score in a win over Robinson.  

WR Mario Williams, Sr., Plant City: Had four catches for 124 yards and a touchdown in win over Strawberry Crest. 

QB David Wright, Sr., Tampa Bay Tech: The veteran had five touchdown passes, all in the second half, to lead a furious rally in a win over Armwood. 

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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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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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