CITRUS PARK — The talk may have been about the other team, but that didn't seem to faze Sickles.
In fact, the Gryphons seemed to thrive on it.
Playing their neighborhood rival Gaither last week, Sickles shook off the chatter surrounding Gaither's 7-on-7 summertime championship and watched their No. 2 quarterback Nate Mills lead two touchdown drives in a 17-2 kickoff classic win.
Now, the Gryphons, who graduated the standout backfield tandem of Cary White and Brieann Dollard, open the regular season against another neighborhood rival with plenty of buzz — Steinbrenner.
The Lutz-based Warriors, despite being only a third-year program, finally have senior players. And Steinbrenner has plenty of seniors on offense, particularly on its offensive line, so the Warriors will score some points behind up-and-coming quarterback Curtis Fitch.
In other opening night contests, Plant will be looking for a better performance than in its preseason game (a 35-7 lost to Miami Columbus) as it hosts Jesuit. Meanwhile, last year's Class 3A state champion Jefferson begins life in Class 6A at Robinson. Also, two private school squads expected to make playoff pushes, Berkeley Prep and Carrollwood Day School, both begin play on the road in Central Florida.
All kickoffs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. unless noted.
Jesuit at Plant
LAST WEEK: Jesuit beat Miami Belen Jesuit 21-14; Plant lost to Miami Columbus 35-7.
THE SKINNY: Jesuit QB Aaron Paulsen established himself in the kickoff classic with 100-plus yards passing, 50 yards rushing and the winning touchdown run. But which Panthers D will he face? Another dominating Plant squad capable of a deep playoff run or a revamped unit that gave up five touchdowns last week? Ranked No. 3 and 4, respectively in the Times preseason Football fab 50, Plant and Jesuit will provide each other with an early-season snapshot of where they stand.
Jefferson at Robinson
LAST WEEK: Jefferson beat Tampa Bay Tech 46-21; Robinson defeated Seminole 42-0.
THE SKINNY: No Mr. Football Quentin Williams for Jefferson? No problem. The Dragons scored three touchdown on kick returns and got solid play from new QBs Diondre Porter and Tyler Small in their exhibition victory. But Robinson's offense may be just as potent. The Knights are speedy in the running and return game, but may be without standout KR/WR Carlos Duclos, who hurt his knee last week.
King at Wharton
LAST WEEK: King defeated Middleton 43-13; Wharton beat Riverview 42-28.
THE SKINNY: Wharton RB/WR/DB Vernon Hargreaves will be a well-known commodity by the end of this season. The junior, who scored on a kickoff return, reception and interception return in the classic, already has been named to ESPNU 2013 Watch List. King will counter with its own dynamic backfield: Greg Windham, Chris Murray and Taylor Gonzalez-Smith.
In a cruel twist of fate, the Lions, one of the best teams in the area, may finish fourth in their district behind super-teams Armwood, Jefferson and Hillsborough.
Leto at Blake
LAST WEEK: Leto lost to Lennard 42-8; Blake lost to Brandon 35-6.
THE SKINNY: Two tough-luck squads trying to get the season off to a positive start. Leto was 1-9 last year while managing just 14 points ALL season AND being held scoreless seven times. Blake won three times last season (four if you count last year's 22-0 preseason win against Leto) and actually beat playoff-bound Lakewood late last season. Advantage Blake.
Bradenton Bayshore at Tampa Catholic
LAST WEEK: Bayshore defeated Pinellas Park 35-12; Tampa Catholic lost to Boca Ciega 28-20.
THE SKINNY: Bayshore's rotating three-back set and solid offensive line likes to pound the ball. Tampa Catholic will need to get off to a fast start, avoid miscues and keep the ball away from Bayshore.
Berkeley Prep at Orlando Trinity Prep, 7 p.m.
LAST WEEK: Berkeley Prep beat Sarasota Out-of-Door 41-6; Trinity Prep blanked Vero Beach St. Edwards 34-0.
THE SKINNY: Coach Dominic Ciao's best squad at Berkeley Prep is led by outstanding athlete Nelson Agholor, who can score running, receiving or returning. Trinity Prep fields a solid squad but likely hasn't seen the likes of Agholor.
Times correspondent Brandon Wright contributed to this report.