Before the sun and most of you rise Monday morning, whistles will blow and the familiar clickety-clack of cleats will echo across the campus at Jesuit High as the Tigers — and a few hours later about 75 other football teams — get to work.
High school football is back.
Which, naturally, begs these questions — and answers — from Times preps columnist John C. Cotey:
Plant or Armwood?
Why does the football season always start with this question? Why?
Anyway, this year, you can say Plant and Armwood, as they are in different classifications and don't have to get by each other in the playoffs. Plant moves from Class 4A to 5A.
Plant's road, however, is blocked by Lakeland and Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, the No. 1 team in the country, according to multiple publications. So it's fair to say Armwood, still in Class 4A, has a better chance to win a state championship.
As far as preseason rankings go, the great bleach-and-blood-stained blond philosopher Ric Flair used to say: "To be the man, you have to beat the man. Woooo."
So for now, Plant. (But check back Oct. 3, the morning after they play each other.)
So you're saying one of them will win a state title?
No. What I'm saying is, Tampa Catholic has a better chance of winning one.
(Wait. … Can you hear that? … It's the sound of every Jesuit fan and player rushing to their keyboards to rip me. … Sounds like Pamplona.)
They have the top two recruits in all of Tampa Bay in quarterback Christian Green and lineman Chaz Green (no relation), a super backfield (Henry McCloud and Hunter Joyer) and a ton of returning starters.
(Jesuit should be good, too. Now, step slooowwly away from the keyboard, Tiger faithful.)
In order, which teams have the best chance to win a state title this year?
1. Tampa Catholic
No Pinellas teams? Ummm …
Truthfully, I think Pinellas County will win a state title within five years. I think Largo, Countryside and Lakewood are starting to catch up to Hillsborough County and have coaching staffs that get it.
But this year? Largo has to get by Hillsborough and/or Armwood and nationally ranked Dwyer. Countryside would have to run a gantlet of Plant-Lakeland-St. Thomas Aquinas, which, well …yeah, never mind. Lakewood's region is very tough.
Armwood, Plant, Tampa Catholic … ooooh, is that limb too scary for you to go out on?
Okay, fine. I'd keep an eye on that Class 3A region that includes Lakewood, Jefferson, Spoto and Nature Coast. Any of those teams (I especially like Lakewood — something special is happening there — and Jefferson) could knock off Pasco in the playoffs.
Keep an eye on Tampa Bay Tech and Alonso, too.
Have you heard anything about transfers this year? Any impact players?
Yeah, reportedly a few players switched schools (cough).
As far as having the biggest impact, quarterback Josh Grady (Freedom to Armwood) and running back Rodney Johnson (Middleton to Hillsborough) fill big holes left by graduated stars.
Magnificently built defender James Wilder Jr. (Chamberlain to Plant) will push the Panthers defense to new heights.
Khiri McQuay (Hillsborough to Armwood) is a big pickup for a depleted secondary and fullback/linebacker Hunter Joyer (Wesley Chapel to Tampa Catholic) is a super fit.
Who are the area's best players?
That's easy. You can put the Greens, Leto running back Jeremy Deering, TBT running back Maurice Hagens and Armwood lineman Theodore "Man-Man" Jackson in any order you'd like.
Dig deeper. By November, who will we be talking about?
Armwood running back Matt Jones is scary good, Jefferson receiver Andre Davis was awesome this summer, Spoto linebacker Rodney Williams has star written all over him, Lakewood running back/defensive back Bernard Reedy is a playmaker and Nature Coast running back Tevin Drake doesn't get his just due enough.
And let me throw this out there — last year during Plant's late-season Aaron Murray-less charge, I wanted to talk to coach Bob Weiner about quarterback Phillip Ely. He wanted to talk about his offensive line. I changed the subject to receiver Orson Charles. He wanted to talk about his offensive line. Well, they are all back, and I think in 2009 we'll be talking about his offensive line.
New coaches abound as well. Anyone going to regret his new job?
Well, Joe Severino has a ton of work to do at Chamberlain, which was a mess this offseason. Almost as much as at Nature Coast, where Mark Lee's attempts to clean things up will be tested in the preseason with a game at Pahokee that has train wreck potential.
As for guys who I think are going to end up pretty happy, Donnie Abraham at Gibbs and Matt Kitchie at Land O'Lakes are going to find immediate success.
What games do you have circled on your calendar?
Lots. I like to take it one week at a time and give 110 percent when it comes to coverage and cliches, but an opening night with Plant hosting TBT, Lakewood hosting Gibbs and Hillsborough squaring off with Jefferson, I'm downright giddy.
Best of all, I don't have to wait until Sept. 4 — Largo and Dunedin strap it on the day before!
Are you really going to Jesuit's 6 a.m. practice Monday?
Wait — a.m.?
John C. Cotey can be reached at john firstname.lastname@example.org