Preseason football, the NFL version, is more or less a tease. It gets fans excited for the games and then, after about a quarter or so, gets old quickly as the names become less familiar.
The high school football preseason is a little different. And in a couple of cases this week for the city of Tampa region, a lot different.
There's only one Friday night to condense all of the fall practices into one dress rehearsal. So coaches, while realizing the final score doesn't matter, will be wanting to show as much as possible.
And it doesn't hurt if there's a tasty matchup. It doesn't get much tastier than Armwood-Plant, and Sickles-Tampa Catholic. Here's a preview of tonight's preseason action. Kickoffs are 7:30 p.m. unless noted.
Armwood at Plant (TV: BHSN)
Why you should go: These teams used to meet up every regular season, in the playoffs or both. But Plant has moved up to Class 8A, Armwood slid to 6A with the opening of Strawberry Crest, and with so many district games (eight) on the Hawks' schedule there just wasn't room last year.
Hence the solution of having by far the most epic preseason clash in the area. Both teams got cut down in the latter stages of the state playoffs last year. Add in more than a pinch of disdain and this one has all the elements.
As always, Armwood is led by a suffocating defense (with Jordan Griffin the leading tackler) and solid run game, with quarterback Noah Johnson proving to be a big-time dual threat. Plant graduated plenty of talent, but has a starting quarterback looking to make a name for himself. Rex Culpepper is the son of celebrity couple Brad and Monica Culpepper of Gator/Buccaneer/Survivor fame.
Sickles at Tampa Catholic, 7
Why you should go: Ever heard of this Ray Ray McCloud III character? The recent Clemson commit has 3,832 career rushing yards, but Sickles is by no means a one-man show, with a full-fledged passing game supplied by Isaac Holder. Tampa Catholic counters with Nate Craig, a Pasco High transfer who is one of the best receivers in the country. The trick is who will be charged with getting him the ball.
Tampa Bay Tech at Blake
Why you should go: TBT's Deon Cain, like McCloud a Clemson commit and leader of an exciting offense, has several quality targets, including freshman Levi Jackson who already is getting people talking about his college potential. Blake had a good offseason of 7-on-7, finishing second in an Ocala tournament. The Yellow Jackets have a star player in defensive lineman Shavar Manuel, and one of the best quarterback names around in Sam Oxendine.
Berkeley Prep at Gulf
Why you should go: Berkeley fans who have never been to Gulf will enjoy the literal old-school look and feel of Des Little Stadium, with its concrete bleachers and community feel from the public address announcer. Gulf has some good skill players, notably slick senior Keshaun Peters , who has been academically ineligible the past two years. Berkeley has a good quarterback in Brad Mayes, many options in the run game and a terrific lineman in Bo Peek.
Robinson at Osceola
Why you should go: Over in Pinellas County, the Osceola Warriors have been headed up by coach George Palmer for 25 years, and they love to run the ball but will be going with a committee approach until someone stands out. Maryland commit Jahrvis Davenport leads the Knights offense at receiver and should be able to rack up some yards. But Robinson will have to stiffen up after tonight: the schedule gets dicey with Sickles, Plant, Jefferson and Armwood to start the season. If there's a tougher first month of opponents in the state, we haven't seen it.
Jefferson at Plant City
Why you should go: Plant City dual-threat quarterback Landon Galloway is gone, and so is heralded receiver TJ Chase (IMG). But the Raiders get a boost from Strawberry Crest transfer Austin Carswell, who excels at quarterback, receiver and defensive back. Jefferson graduated all-everything Deiondre Porter (4,698 total yards) and is breaking in new talent on both sides of the ball, but the Dragons' strength is at defensive back.
Middleton at Strawberry Crest
Why you should go: Tristan Hyde returns under center after a knee injury in the third game of 2013 wiped out most of his junior season. Hyde demonstrated he was one of the area's better dual-threat quarterbacks in 2012 and a lot of the Chargers' hopes rest on his shoulders. New coach Jeff George Jr. takes over a Middleton program that has plenty of question marks on offense, but the defense is humming along nicely.
Clearwater at Hillsborough
Why you should go: This out-of-county matchup features one of the bay area's best quarterbacks, Hillsborough senior Dwayne Lawson. The Terriers missed the playoffs last year for only the second time in 21 seasons under coach Earl Garcia. That's something the Terriers and Lawson, a Miami commit, do not want to repeat in 2014.
King at Alonso
Why you should go: To get a good look at one of the county's best quarterback prospects. Alonso's Chris Oladokun threw for 2,000 yards in his first year as a starter. Oladokun and the Ravens may be a sleeper in their district.
Cambridge Christian at Winter Haven All Saints, 7
Why you should go: For those who make the trek to Winter Haven, expect plenty of Lancers' points. They return prolific quarterback Garrett Young; and All Saints' is coming off a one-win season and has a listed roster of just 16 players.
Correspondents Rod Gipson and Brandon Wright contributed to this report.