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 in one of the county's many preseason kickoff classics, Sickles shook off the chatter surrounding Gaither's 7-on-7 summertime championship and watched 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.
Alonso at Gaither
LAST WEEK: Alonso defeated Spoto 13-12; Gaither lost to Sickles 17-2.
THE SKINNY: And the Brandons shall lead them. Alonso's offense will try to click with QB Brandon Hawkins (200-plus yards passing against Spoto) and RB Brandon Holloway (TD reception against Spoto). Gaither, meanwhile, learned that 7-on-7 summer success doesn't automatically transfer to tackle football. New QB Alex McGough, a sophomore, had a few standout moments during the loss to Sickles, but the Cowboys must provide more protection and cut down on penalties.
Sickles at Steinbrenner
LAST WEEK: Sickles defeated Gaither 17-2; Steinbrenner lost to Newsome 37-33.
THE SKINNY: Sickles QB Nate Mills impressed while filling in for injured starter Lee Myers in the win against Gaither. But the Gryphons' offense may need more juice against a talented Steinbrenner team ready for a possible season-long party. Steinbrenner has a senior-filled offense and won five of its last seven games last season.
Bloomingdale at Chamberlain
LAST WEEK: Bloomingdale lost 15-0 to Durant; Chamberlain beat East Bay 30-7.
THE SKINNY: Bulls coach John Booth is excited about the infusion of athleticism and experience on this year's team. Bloomingdale may be better defensively, but the Bulls will have their hands full with Chamberlain junior RB Xavier Johnson, who flashed his running ability with 168 yards and two TDs in the Chiefs' preseason win.
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's 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 superteams 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 try 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 3-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.
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.
Middleton at Hillsborough
LAST WEEK: Hillsborough beat Plant City 19-14; Middleton lost to King 43-19.
THE SKINNY: After nipping a tough Plant City team 19-14 last Friday, the Terriers should find the season opener much easier sledding. Keep an eye on Purdue-bound senior Anthony Brown, who turned a short screen into an electrifying 86-yard TD reception last week against the Raiders.
Freedom at Durant
LAST WEEK: Freedom beat Strawberry Crest 31-20; Durant defeated Bloomingdale 15-0.
THE SKINNY: Durant didn't look pretty in its shutout of Bloomingdale but then again, most Cougar teams aren't particularly flashy. What they are, however, is well coached and scrappy. The Patriots will provide an excellent measuring stick for Durant, and that will aid the Cougars in preparation for a well-balanced district featuring Brandon, Newsome and Plant City.
Bishop McLaughlin at Cambridge
LAST WEEK: Bishop McLaughlin lost to Carrollwood Day 38-6; Cambridge defeated Shorecrest 50-28.
THE SKINNY: Bishop McLaughlin can run the ball behind the strength of bruising RB Jordan Betancourt while the Lancers' offense will go through its Division 1 recruit, receiver Damarcus Faison, and RB Daniel Hamilton, who scored three touchdowns last week.
Carrollwood Day at Daytona Beach Father Lopez (7 p.m.)
LAST WEEK: Carrollwood Day defeated Bishop McLaughlin 38-6; Father Lopez lost to Crescent City 48-2.
THE SKINNY: Carrollwood Day RB Robert Davis is off and running, tallying 112 yards with two touchdowns and another score on a reception in the kickoff classic win. Father Lopez's tough exhibition loss could be repeated tonight.
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.