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Football: Region final preview (Classes 4A-2A)

Bob Putnam



All games start at 7:30

Class 4A

Cocoa (9-0) at Tampa Catholic (7-2)

Stat leaders: Cocoa: DJ Arroyo, Sr. (280.0 passing yards per game); RB OJ Ross, Jr. (97.8 rushing yards per game); WR Davis Mallinger, Sr. (89.3 receiving yards per game); LB AJ Williams, Sr. (5.9 tackles per game); DL Daniel Robinson, Sr. (1.0 sacks per game); DB Cedrick Hawkins, So. (0.5 interceptions per game). Tampa Catholic: QB Xavione Washington, So. (98.0 passing yards per game); RB Antoine Hill, So. (85.4 rushing yards per game); Wr AJ Williams, Jr. (51.9 receiving yards per game); LB Edward Zanato, Sr. (12.7 tackles per game); LB Antonio Camon, So. (1.1 sacks per game); DB DD Snyder, Sr. (0.4 interceptions per game); DB Adrian Ramsey, Jr. (0.4 interceptions per game). 

Outlook: The Crusaders are coming off their best performance of the season, beating previously undefeated Lakewood 17-14 in double overtime. Now comes the biggest challenge yet. The Tigers have won five state titles since 2008 and have made it to the region final every year during that span. The big matchup will be Cocoa quarterback DJ Arroyo (2,240 yards, 19 touchdowns) going up against a Tampa Catholic secondary that has recorded 14 interceptions this season, including four by Illinois commit DD Snyder. 

Pinkos’ pick: Cocoa by 21

Putnam’s prediction: Cocoa 35-21

Class 3A

Berkeley Prep (6-1) at Lakeland Christian (8-2)

Stat leaders: Berkeley Prep: QB Gavin Rupp, Sr. (119.7 passing yards per game); RB Travis Bates, Jr. (87.0 rushing yards per game); RB Xavier Townsend, Jr. (81.1 rushing yards per game); WR RJ Garcia II, Sr. (59.7 receiving yards per game); DL/LB Austin Dean, Sr. (8.0 tackles per game; DL/LB Titus Bullard, Fr. (0.5 sacks per game); DB Damien Henderson, So. (0.5 interceptions per game). Lakeland Christian: QB Elijah Hunter, Sr. (104.0 passing yards per game); RB Jacorian Davis, Sr. (72.4 rushing yards per game); LB Bo Copen, Sr. (10.2 tackles, 0.7 sacks per game). DB EJ Vickers, Sr. (0.8 interceptions per game). 

Outlook: Since losing the season opener to Jesuit, the Buccaneers have won six straight, including a 34-28 victory over Lakeland Christian. In that game, Berkeley Prep relied heavily on its rushing attack, gaining 254 yards on the ground. Most of that came from Travis Bates and Xavier Townsend, who each had more than 100 yards. But the Buccaneers are not one-dimensional. They can hit big plays in the passing game, as evidenced by the 110 receiving yards Kansas State commit RJ Garcia had against the Vikings.   

Pinkos’ pick: Berkeley Prep by 6

Putnam’s prediction: Berkeley Prep 21-17

Class 2A

Seffner Christian (7-4) at Northside Christian (6-5)

Stat leaders: Seffner Christian: QB Titan Williamson, Sr. (149.4 passing yards per game); RB Jaydunn Walker, Sr. (48.3 rushing yards per game); DL Victor Black, Jr. (7.6 tackles, 1.6 sacks per game); WR Herman James, Sr. (56.6 receiving yards per game). Northside Christian: QB Scott Lynch, So. (226.1 passing yards per game); RB Brian James, Sr. (121.8 rushing yards per game); RB Zuri Watson, So. (89.0 rushing yards per game); WR One Williams, Jr. (73.3 receiving yards per game); DL Brock Richards, Sr. (2.0 tackles, 2.0 sacks per game); DB Azari Davis, Jr. (0.3 interceptions per game). 

Outlook: This is a rematch from last year’s region semifinals that the Crusaders won 49-21. Both teams look remarkably different this time around. Seffner Christian dealt with the graduation of quarterback Isaiah Knowles and multiple players who transferred to other schools in the offseason. Still, the Crusaders persevered, overcoming a 104 start to win their last six, including a wild 49-47 victory over Cambridge Christian in last week’s region semifinals. The Mustangs have rebounded from a similar shaky start, winning four of their last five, including a 42-33 victory over Carrollwood Day in last week’s region semifinals. 

Pinkos’ pick: Seffner Christian by 11

Putnam’s prediction: Seffner Christian 45-34

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College Football

Seminole’s Chris Miller selected to coach in Tropical Bowl

Bob Putnam



Seminole’s Chris Miller was named one of the head coaches for the Tropical Bowl, an all-star college football game featuring mostly FBS players who are potential NFL draft picks. 

Miller will coach the American team. He left Thursday to start practices for Sunday’s game, which kicks off at 11 a.m. at Kissimmee’s Celebration High. 

The staff Miller assembled includes Warhawks assistants Rob Ewing and Chris Parker and former Admiral Farragut standout Kreg Brown. 

After spending more than a decade as a player and a coach at Admiral Farragut, Miller left to become coach at Seminole in 2013. 

This is his third year coaching in a college all-star game. He was the receivers coach for the National Bowl in 2018 and was offensive coordinator for the game in 2019. 

Two locals are playing in this year’s Tropical Bowl — USF defensive back Mike Hampton (Hillsborough) and Florida International offensive lineman Shane McGough (Gaither).  

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Hillsborough track star Erriyon Knighton reportedly turns pro

Bob Putnam



Hillsborough’s Erriyon Knighton, who solidified himself as one of the nation’s top sprinters after an impressive performance this summer, has decided to forgo his high school and collegiate eligibility by signing with Adidas according to a report by Track and Field News. 

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Knighton becomes the second area track athlete to turn pro before exhausting his amateur status. In 2015, former Gibbs and Baylor sprinting sensation Trayvon Bromell signed with New Balance. A year later, Bromell was in the Olympics. 

Knighton is on the same path.  

At the Junior Olympics this past summer, Knighton won the 200 meters in a wind-legal time of 20.33 seconds, the fastest-ever recorded in the 16 year old’s age group (15-16) at the Junior Olympics and the nation’s top time by a high school athlete at that point last year. 

Knighton shaved 56 seconds off his personal best set in June of 2020. And his blistering 20.33 time was just 0.20 seconds off the under-18 world record set by Usain Bolt. 

That was not all. 

In the 100 meters, Knighton again sprinted to the head of the class at the Junior Olympics, this time winning in 10.29 seconds, a time that was tied for the nation’s top mark by a high school athlete this past year.

Those eye-opening times got the attention of the track-and-field aficionados — and the sporting world.

It also put him on the fast track to potential Olympic stardom. That was in part why he made the decision, according to Track and Field News. 

By doing so, Knighton is all but giving up a promising career in football. 

Knighton’s big-play ability, combined with his speed, made him a bona fide football prospect. He is already ranked as a four-star recruit and considered the state’s 15-best player for the Class of 2022 on 247 Sports’ composite list.

As a junior this past season, Knighton had 201 rushing yards, 484 receiving and accounted for eight touchdowns.  

Colleges took notice. Knighton has offers from several Division I-A programs, including Florida, FSU, Michigan and Tennessee. 

Knighton’s future is coming into his focus.

So is his vision. 

This summer, Knighton failed a physical because of poor eyesight. He had 20/100 vision in one eye and 20/80 in the other. He now has glasses and plans on getting contacts. 

“It didn’t really bother me in track,” Knighton told Prime Time Preps at the time. “I could still see. The only thing that was blurry was when I tried to read plays from the sideline in football.”

The picture is clear. No more football and track at Hillsborough, followed by four more years of both sports in college. 

The focus is now on the Olympics, something that Knighton said was a possibility this summer. 

“I might lean towards track, slightly,” Knighton told Prime Time Preps this summer.. “I’m thinking about the Olympics more and more.” 

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Locals to watch in Sunday’s NFL wild-card games

Bob Putnam



Several locals are playing in NFL wild-card games this weekend. Here are the ones on active rosters for Sunday’s games. 

Baltimore Ravens

WR Chris Moore

High school: Jefferson

College: Cincinnati

New Orleans Saints

RB Tony Jones Jr.

High school: St. Petersburg Catholic/IMG Academy

College: Notre Dame

Diontae Johnson
Photos courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers

WR Diontae Johnson

High school: Lennard

College: Toledo

WR Ray-Ray McCloud

High school: Sickles

College: Clemson

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