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Football roundup: Opening game fine with Hawks' Callahan

getting a leg up: Plant players perform agility drills during their first practice of the preseason.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

getting a leg up: Plant players perform agility drills during their first practice of the preseason.

For the first time since 2006, the local prep football season won't kick off with the annual game of the millennium between Plant and Armwood.

And Hawks coach Sean Callahan, whose team won the past two season openers against the Panthers, including the 2008 contest televised live by ESPNU, couldn't be happier.

"The four years prior to that it was Hillsborough (in the opener)," said Callahan, whose team formally launched the '09 campaign Monday with its first preseason practice. "So I am so happy because finally (the county) listened to me."

Like many, Callahan never seemed fond of opening the season with the most high-profile contest of the year (think Florida-Georgia in Week 1) for a number of reasons. Among them: It overshadowed other prominent matchups.

Last year, Armwood-Plant was staged the same night as Hillsborough-Jefferson, Freedom-Wharton, Plant City-Durant and Gaither-Chamberlain — all big-time regional rivalries.

"It was too many games in one night instead of spacing it all out," Callahan said. "Now I've got Plant in Week 5 (Oct. 2), Hillsborough in Week (8) — that's good stuff."

By contrast, Panthers coach Bob Weiner said he embraced kicking off the season with a colossal matchup, even though his team was outscored by a collective total of 35-9.

"We played those games at the beginning of the year and lost them, so I could easily say as a coach, yeah, I'm happy about (moving the game back)," Weiner said.

"But I always liked that, I was fine with that. … You've got all year for people to talk about that and look forward to that. I mean, what more can you ask for?"

Run them ragged: The James Harrell era at Freedom is off and running. And running. And running.

Taking a page from ex-boss Steve Spurrier, Harrell put the Patriots through a sweltering "12-minute run" Monday afternoon before breaking into more football-specific drills. Players were required to complete a certain number of laps in the dozen minutes, depending on their position.

The endurance run has long been a camp-opening custom for Spurrier, who had it in place during his stint as coach of the Tampa Bay Bandits; Harrell is a former Bandits linebacker.

"I had to do it when I played, so I'm making sure everybody else does it," Harrell said, laughing.

Among the nonparticipants was 6-foot-6 quarterback Tyler Guy, just getting over mononucleosis. Guy, a Zephyr­hills transfer, said he intended to join the Patriots for practice later in the day. For now, he's battling rangy junior Dustin Rauh for the starting job.

"It's shaping up pretty good," said Harrell, co-defensive coordinator for Plant's two state title teams. "(Guy) appears to be the front-runner at the position right now. His senior leadership and his poise and demeanor … has kind of got him ahead. But Dustin is quite capable of getting it done."

Hawks in fine form: Callahan was pleased with the Hawks' first day of practice, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Thanks to a number of 7-on-7 tournaments over the summer, Callahan said the execution was better than ever for the first practice.

"In terms of X's and O's, we're further along than we've ever been at this point," he said. "Those camps really helped us."

Callahan said he expects to have sophomore safety Paul John Roundtree, who's recovering from an ACL injury, to be back on the field in "about two weeks."

Target practice: Bloomingdale receivers be warned: your new coach has a strong arm. John Booth, who took over the program after Jason Stokes resigned, spent the early part of practice firing passes to receivers on short slant routes. And more than one wideout came back to the line of scrimmage shaking his hands in pain — Booth was an NAIA All-America quarterback at MidAmerica Nazarene.

Little League

Citrus Park's junior league baseball team is on a roll at the Southeast Regional Tournament in Cartersville, Ga. The team beat Alabama 18-0 on Saturday, Georgia 8-4 on Sunday and North Carolina 4-3 on Monday, to reach today's semifinal.

Correspondent Brandon Wright contributed to this report.

. fast facts

On the Web

We kicked off our preseason football video series with highlights from the first day of practice. Check out that video, and watch for our first team preview today, at highschool.tampabay.com.

Football roundup: Opening game fine with Hawks' Callahan 08/11/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 12:54am]
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