I’m not sure if you heard but football is back. The high school preseason debuted last week with the regular season opening here this week on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and even Sunday.
It’s been a long off-season for these athletes who have been training hard and working towards their individual and team goals.
Every team has a clean slate as of now so it will be fun to start to sort out the good teams from the bad.
Here are five games I’ll be paying attention to closely this weekend.
Armwood at Plant City (Fri.)
This is a dandy of a matchup between 6A Armwood and 7A Plant City. Armwood is fresh off a 14-1 season which ended in state final loss to Miami Central. They’ll be hungry to pick up state championship No. 4 and their first since 2011 with three-headed backfield Brian Snead, Erin Collins and Darrin McNeal leading the way.
As for Plant City, they appeared in their first-ever region final a year ago finishing 11-2. However, head coach Greg Meyer left after one season and now 26-year-old Robert Paxia earns the promotion to the man in charge. Senior wide receiver Antoine Thompson is the team’s top offensive weapon.
Prediction: Armwood 35, Plant City 20
Jefferson at Tampa Bay Tech (Fri.)
This is going to be a game where two high-quality quarterbacks go head to head in Tampa Bay Tech’s Michael Penix Jr. and Jefferson’s Cade Weldon. Penix is a rising junior who has five offers and made the transfer over from Pasco. The Titans went 7-5 last season before losing to Plant City in the 7A region semifinal. TBT will be much improved this year.
As for Jefferson, Weldon, a senior and Miami commit is back healthy after suffering a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee in the opening game last season. This kid has a cannon and is as smart as they come. His top target rising junior wide receiver Jermaine Eskridge will make plays that will make your head spin. Jefferson is going to be dangerous in 6A after going 5-7 in 2015.
Prediction: Tampa Bay Tech 27, Jefferson 21
Berkeley Prep at Clearwater Central Catholic (Thurs.)
These two Class 3A schools met last season at Berkeley Prep where Clearwater Central Catholic came in and won 34-23. CCC is filled with Division-I talent including running backs Jervon Newton, Ra’Shaad Stewart, C.J. Cotman and wide receiver Amari Burney. Defensive line coach Chris Harvey took over for longtime coach John Davis and the Marauders are out to make another deep run after appearing in two straight state semifinals and a state championship in 2013.
The Buccaneers went 6-4 and missed out on the playoffs last season. Tight end Jacob Mathis graduated and is now at Ole Miss but his brother Zach Mathis, a junior is ready to take over his role. Old reliable Gordon Stetson is back carrying the load at running back with quarterback Davis Koetter under center. Defensive ends Sandro Maxwell and Mayan Ahantou are players to watch in this one.
Prediction: CCC 31, Berkeley Prep 24
Seminole Osceola at Pinellas Park (Fri.)
Osceola comes over to Largo to visit Pinellas Park. The Patriots led by quarterback/cornerback Zamari Maxwell and defensive Jordon Scott have made the postseason two of the last three years under head coach Kenneth Crawford. However, in 2015 they missed out to a three-way tie in Class 7A-District 10 play despite going 8-2. They’ll be playing with an edge this season.
As for Osceola, they finished 7-4 last year and appeared in the 6A region quarterfinal before losing to Charlotte. The Warriors have only three winning seasons over the last nine years. Junior running back Tony Niles is the lone piece returning in the backfield after a slew of seniors graduated.
Prediction: Pinellas Park 38, Osceola 14
Steinbrenner at Gaither (Fri.)
Last but not least we go out to Gaither where they welcome Steinbrenner. The Cowboys looked sharp against Tampa Catholic in last week’s preseason game (one quarter). Senior running back TJ Williams did everything and more for the offense and he looks to be a true workhorse. Quarterback Gavin DenBoer and linebackers DeCalon Brooks and Matthew Wood need to be focused on for a team that looks to turn it around after a 4-6 season.
Steinbrenner made the playoffs for the first time in school history a year ago with a 9-2 record. They fell to Orlando Dr. Phillips in the 8A region quarterfinals. Super talented running back Jayquese Dantley graduated but senior wide receivers Brett Bitter and Carson Kaleo are back to take on bigger roles. This should be a close matchup.
Prediction: Gaither 30, Steinbrenner 27
Others to keep an eye on:
Northside Christian at Naples First Baptist (Fri.)
St. Pete at Gibbs (Fri.)
Durant at Hillsborough (Fri.)
Lakewood Ranch at Jesuit (Thurs.)
Wesley Chapel at Land O’ Lakes (Fri.)
Delray Beach Village at Cambridge Christian (Fri.)
What games will you be watching? Comment below with any predictions or thoughts.
Jake Perper is the scout for Prep Sports Scouting. Make sure to follow along for all the updates on Twitter: @JakePerper.
If you have any questions or comments feel free to write below or email Jake at firstname.lastname@example.org.