I'm on record as generally dismissing spring games as having any sort of influence on a team's fall fortunes. Same pretty much goes for fall classics. In both cases, teams have lost one or both those games and gone on to great things (see Largo, 2008* or Plant, 2009**), and others have won those games and gone on to have miserable seasons. Crowing about those victories always seems to ring a little hollow.
* -- Largo advanced to region title game.
** -- Plant won a state title.
But are the games still important? Absolutely. The kids love them. Some more than others. In my trek around Tampa Bay putting together our spring video package, I've heard some things. Trash talk, even. Quite honestly, some of it surprised me, though I will protect the guilty in this case.
Here's three games (or halves) this spring that you really should try to get out to. They'll have that little something extra that helps them transcend your usual scrimmage-type of atmosphere:
1. Plant vs. Jefferson at Robinson, Friday night
Seriously, this little grouping (which also includes Blake) is L-O-A-D-E-D. So much so, we've been inspired to throw together a little mini-Friday Night Rewind we're so excited about it. There's about 20 kids playing in this jamboree with Division I-A offers, and has who I think is the best player in Tampa Bay (Plant's James Wilder Jr., our Defensive Player of the Year last season), the best quarterback (Jefferson's Quentin Williams, our Offensive Player of the Year last season, and don't forget Plant's Phillip Ely isn't too far behind, the four best wide receivers minus Hillsborough's Charles Lovett (Jefferson's Andre Davis and Chris Moore and Robinson's Ruben Gonzalez and Frankie Williams), stud linebackers like Jefferson's Ramik Wilson and Robinson's Tevin Newman, soon-to-be stars like Plant's Antonio Crawford, and I could go on and on and on.
But the allure here? Jefferson vs. Plant.
I can practically guarantee this will be the fiercest, hardest-hitting, trash-talkingest half of football we see until September. Jefferson is way into this game, especially since Plant ditched the Dragons for a regular-season game in Texas in Week 3. The Dragons wanted Plant (who doesn't want to knock off the defending state champs?) badly after getting whooped last year, and by bolting for Texas and ESPN the Panthers are denying Jefferson its biggest gate of the season. Heck, Plant at Jefferson could have been an ESPN game, if you think about it.
Plant better be ready to play hard Friday night, and you know they will be. The Dragons will be bringing it and are looking to make a statement, exhibition game or not.
2. St. Petersburg at Countryside, May 28
The Cougars are supposed to be Pinellas County's best team this season. That's the word. But St. Petersburg is like, what? Who? (and Tarpon Springs and Lakewood also have lodged official beefs with that notion, but I digress...)
Fact is, the Green Devils are tired of hearing about Countryside, especially those big Tyler boys at tackle (Moore and Pierson), and happen to think they have the best offensive line in Pinellas, NOT the Cougars. The Green Devils didn't get the love they deserved last season after stunning Venice in the playoffs and playing Bradenton Manatee right down to the finish, so the chip on their shoulder is a big one. Every starter is back on the O-line, quarterback David Jones returns and I'll predict right now Rashad Lewis will lead the county in rushing. He's a nice looking back with size and speed who I think is ready to break out.
But the Cougars aren't ready to surrender their crown just yet. Jared Davis is running the most fast-paced practices I have ever seen, and while there are holes to fill there are people to fill them with. It be interesting to see how well Gray Crow plays at quarterback (they say he's slow afoot and missing the touch, but i think the Cougars may be more worried about finding wide receivers to haul his passes in) and if the Cougars defense is up to challenge of Joe Fabrizio's expertly efficiient wing-T (with a few twists, I'm guessing).
3. Jesuit at Sickles (and Alonso vs. Leto), Friday night
I didn't really think much of this game, until some overzealous Sickles assistants (or JV coaches, depending on who you want to believe) decided to secretly tape Jesuit's intrasquad scrimmage/BBQ last week from the top of a nearby parking garage.
The Sickles coaches were nearly nabbed by an eagle-eyed Jesuit assistant, but got away with the goods. Jesuit coach James Harrell called it sad and pathetic, and it is -- come on guys, it's a FREAKING JAMBOREE! Wouldn't your team learn more reading plays and reacting to them than actually knowing what's coming? You could let this slide -- or at least understood it -- if the teams met in the regular season, but they don't!
Sickles coach Pat O'Brien called to apologize, and we're pretty sure he's way too classy and honorable a guy to stoop to such silliness, though some on his staff apparently would. The tape, however, was never turned over. It should have been sent over in a vase with a nice selection of spring flowers for Harrell's desk.
While Jesuit is laughing it off -- and it is pretty amusing and all -- you can bet it has been and will be used to motivate the Tigers Friday. How dare Sickles come in and try to secretly tape what we were serving on the grill...uh, and running on offense! It will give the game extra sizzle.
So, these are the three games I would see if I had a choice.
What three matchups do you think will play out best?