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Football: Class 6A play-in preview



Class 6A

2020 FHSAA Football State Championships Class 6A Region 1 and 2

The schedule

Gaither (8-0) at Seminole (3-5), 7:30

Outlook: The Cowboys, ranked second in 7A and favored to reach the state title game, had an extra week to prepare after picking up a forfeit win in its first play-in game against Osceola. This one could be over quick considering Gaither has outscored its opponents by a combined 260-38 during its undefeated regular season. 

Pinkos’ pick: Gaither by 51

Putnam’s prediction: Gaither 49-0

Clearwater (4-4) at St. Petersburg (1-6), 7:30

Outlook: Though it’s been an uneven season, the Tornadoes should be able to breeze through to the next round, setting up a possible rematch with Gaither in the quarterfinals. 

Pinkos’ pick: Clearwater by 56

Putnam’s prediction: Clearwater 42-0

Countryside (6-3) at Springstead (1-3), 7:30

Outlook: The Cougars advanced by beating Northeast in their first play-in game last week. Now, Countryside has to go on the road to face the Eagles, who are honoring their seniors tonight. 

Pinkos’ pick: Springstead by 3

Putnam’s prediction: Countryside 21-20

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

Pinkos’ pick: Lecanto by 1

Putnam’s prediction: Lecanto 20-14

Largo (3-4) at Hollins (2-7), 7

Outlook: After hanging with undefeated Lakewood in last week’s regular season finale, the Packers have some confidence that they can make a run in the playoffs. 

Pinkos’ pick: Largo by 25

Putnam’s prediction: Largo 30-7

Freedom (0-8) at Deltona (2-4), 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Deltona by 20

Putnam’s prediction: Deltona 31-10 

Land O’ Lakes (1-6) at Lake Minneola (6-1), 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Lake Minneola by 56

Putnam’s prediction: Lake Minneola 49-7

2020 FHSAA Football State Championships Class 6A Region 3 and 4

Bayside (3-4) at Jefferson (7-1), 7:30

Outlook: The Dragons are flying under the radar. They have built up a solid record thanks to a stingy secondary led by Eric Felder and Alloysius Tyson, who have a combined 11 interceptions this season. 

Pinkos’ pick: Bayside by 6

Putnam’s prediction: Jefferson 27-21

Hillsborough (6-1) at Heritage (1-6), 7:30

Outlook: The Terriers, who have won six straight, should be able to keep that streak going thanks to a talented offensive backfield led by quarterback Caleb Pierce and running backs Jordaan Bailey and Joey Sipp Jr.  

Pinkos’ pick: Hillsborough by 45

Putnam’s prediction: Hillsborough 56-14

Spoto (3-5) at Lake Gibson (8-1), 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Lake Gibson by 63

Putnam’s prediction: Lake Gibson 48-16

Westwood (6-1) at Middleton (4-4), 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Westwood by 9

Putnam’s prediction: Westwood 32-23

Auburndale (4-3) at King (5-3), 7:30

Pinkos’ pick: Auburndale by 24

Putnam’s prediction: Auburndale 24-13

The stats

6A area leaders

Passing yards (average per game)

185.0 Taffrey Peterman, Boca Ciega (13 TDs, 6 INTs)

182.0 Caleb Pierce, Hillsborough (14 TDs, 6 INTs)

177.0 Riley Allan, Osceola (5 TDs, 10 INTs)

169.0 Kiael Kelly, Gaither (10 TDs, 3 INTs)

164.8 Chris Moore, King (9 TDs, 4 INTs)

Rushing yards (average per game)

134.4 Markese Norfleet, Northeast (11 TDs)

134.4 TJ Holmes, Largo (7 TDs)

98.8 Malik Mazion, Jefferson (11 TDs)

86.9 Khaleef Stewart, Spoto (0 TDs)

84.0 Aidan Marsh, Land O’ Lakes (4 TDs)

Receiving yards (average per game)

81.0 Omarie Sherrod, St. Petersburg (1 TD)

64.0 David Hayes, King (0 TDs)

59.9 Dwayne Taylor, King (2 TDs)

56.0 Jacobie Dilworth, Spoto (0 TDs)

54.7 Drelin Pittman, Gaither (2 TDs)

Tackles (average per game)

14.4 Cortland Mitchell, Osceola

11.7 Joey Sipp Jr., Hillsborough

10.4 Matt Sattinger, Countryside

9.7 Melvin Rivera, Fivay

9.5 Tommy Smith, Osceola

Sacks (average per game)

2.5 Mario Eugenio, Gaither

1.7 Wayne Bennett, King

1.7 August Salvati, Clearwater

1.6 Zavion McKinon, Land O’ Lakes

1.3 Asa Van Buren, Gaither

Interceptions (average per game)

0.9 Eric Felder, Jefferson

0.8 Alloysious Tyson, Jefferson

0.7 Mikhai Campbell, Gaither

0.5 Kaden Khammanivong, Osceola

0.5 Kennen Ayala, Land O’ Lakes

0.5 Burhaan Hamm, Largo

The rankings

6A state top 25 (compiled by MaxPreps)

1. Miami Central (2-1)

2. Gaither (8-0)

3. Naples Palmetto Ridge (7-0)

4. Daytona Beach Mainland (6-1)

5. Pensacola Escambia (7-0)

6. Lake Minneola (6-1)

7. North Fort Myers (8-0)

8. St. Augustine (6-2)

9. Palmetto (5-3)

10. Jacksonville Lee (5-1)

11. Naples (5-1)

12. Lake Gibson (8-1)

13. Pensacola Booker T. Washington (4-2)

14. Hillsborough (6-1)

15. Boca Ciega (6-1)

16. Punta Gorda Charlotte (6-2)

17. Milton (5-2)

18. Braden River (3-3)

19. Fort Myers (6-2)

20. Lynn Haven Mosley (4-3)

21. Clearwater (4-4)

22. Fort Myers Dunbar (5-2)

23. Lake City Columbia (2-5)

24. Port Charlotte (5-3)

25. Palm Bay Bayside (3-4) 

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Tampa Bay Tech’s Rod Gainey transfers to IMG Academy



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



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



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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