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Friday night football forecast

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Games to watch

Jesuit (8-0) at Tampa Catholic (5-1), 7:30

Outlook: The Tigers own this series. They have won 20 straight against their biggest rival and another win would not only keep the streak going but also wrap up an undefeated regular season for Jesuit. 

Pinkos’ pick: Jesuit by 21

Putnam’s prediction: Jesuit 28-21

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”66″]

Newsome (5-1) at Bloomingdale (7-0), 7:30

Outlook: This game, originally slated as the season opener, was added again, this time as the regular season finale after some scheduling changes. The Bulls have plenty of motivation. A win would complete the first undefeated regular season in school history. 

Pinkos’ pick: N/A

Putnam’s prediction: Bloomingdale 27-16 

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”67″]

Zephyrhills (5-2) at Pasco (4-4), 7:30

Outlook: Last year, the Pirates snapped a five-game losing streak in the “9-Mile War” by beating the Bulldogs in the regular season finale. Zephyrhills is not only looking for payback but also is trying to extend its current five-game win streak going into the playoffs.

Pinkos’ pick: Zephyrhills by 21

Putnam’s prediction: Zephyrhills 35-14 

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”68″]

Plant City (5-2) at Hillsborough (5-1), 7:30

Outlook: Since losing the regular season opener, the Terriers have won five straight. That streak could be in jeopardy against the Raiders’ high-octane offense, which has scored 30 or more points in every win this season. 

Pinkos’ pick: Plant City by 3

Putnam’s prediction: Plant City 20-16 

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”69″]

Playoff play-in games

Class 6A

Palmetto (4-3) at Blake (1-6), 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Palmetto by 51

Putnam’s prediction: Palmetto 49-6

Northeast (4-3) at Countryside (5-3), 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Countryside by 3

Putnam’s prediction: Countryside 28-27 

The remaining games

Cambridge Christian at Lakeland Victory Christian, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Victory Christian by 6

Putnam’s prediction: Cambridge Christian 14-13

Clearwater Academy at Venice, 6

Pinkos’ pick: Venice by 14

Putnam’s prediction: Clearwater Academy 35-30

Lakewood at Plant, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Lakewood by 35

Putnam’s prediction: Lakewood 35-0

Anclote at Keswick Christian, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Anclote by 7

Putnam’s prediction: Anclote 28-20

Tarpon Springs at East Lake, 7

Pinkos’ pick: East Lake by 43

Putnam’s prediction: East Lake 42-7

Sickles at Berkeley Prep, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Berkeley Prep by 42

Putnam’s prediction: Berkeley Prep 34-6

Seminole at Lakewood Ranch, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Lakewood Ranch by 14

Putnam’s prediction: Lakewood Ranch 21-7

Northside Christian at St. Petersburg Catholic, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Northside Christian by 3

Putnam’s prediction: St. Petersburg Catholic 38-36

River Ridge at The Villages, 7

Pinkos’ pick: N/A

Putnam’s prediction: River Ridge 14-13 

Hernando at Lecanto, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Hernando by 24

Putnam’s prediction: Hernando 42-16

Dunedin at Palm Harbor University, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Palm Harbor University by 19

Putnam’s prediction: Palm Harbor University 28-19

Calvary Christian at Land O’ Lakes, 7

Pinkos’ pick: Calvary Christian by 45

Putnam’s prediction: Calvary Christian 42-14

Middleton at Lennard, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Lennard by 13

Putnam’s prediction: Lennard 30-19

Durant at Wharton, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Durant by 6

Putnam’s prediction: Wharton 20-14

Freedom at Strawberry Crest, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Strawberry Crest by 10

Putnam’s prediction: Strawberry Crest 14-12

Zephyrhills Christian at Sunlake, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Zephyrhills Christian by 6

Putnam’s prediction: Zephyrhills Christian 27-21

Carrollwood Day at Seffner Christian, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Seffner Christian by 1

Putnam’s prediction: Seffner Christian 16-14

East Bay at Chamberlain, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Chamberlain by 17

Putnam’s prediction: Chamberlain 21-10

Wesley Chapel at Mitchell, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Mitchell by 48

Putnam’s prediction: Mitchell 56-14

Riverview at Tampa Bay Tech, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Tampa Bay Tech by 48

Putnam’s prediction: Tampa Bay Tech 38-14

Leto at Robinson, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Robinson by 20

Putnam’s prediction: Robinson 34-7

Cypress Creek at Gulf, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Cypress Creek by 13

Putnam’s prediction: Cypress Creek 28-7

Clearwater Central Catholic at Sarasota Booker, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Clearwater Central Catholic by 17

Putnam’s prediction: Clearwater Central Catholic 

Alonso at Jefferson, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Jefferson by 24

Putnam’s prediction: Jefferson 28-14

Nature Coast at Weeki Wachee, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Nature Coast by 27

Putnam’s prediction: Nature Coast 30-7

Central at Springstead, 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Springstead by 49

Putnam’s prediction: Springstead 48-0

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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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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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