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North Tampa high school football matchups promise plenty of excitement

Berkeley Prep running back Nelson Agholor, one of the Tampa Bay area’s most highly touted Division I prospects, returns to the field this year as a senior.

JOHN C. COTEY | Times

Berkeley Prep running back Nelson Agholor, one of the Tampa Bay area’s most highly touted Division I prospects, returns to the field this year as a senior.

Don't tell Plant that tonight's kickoff classic is just a preseason game.

Coach Robert Weiner wouldn't listen anyway.

So when the Panthers start the 2011 season at home against Miami Columbus, they'll be playing to win — and doing all the regular evaluating and note-taking that accompanies exhibition games.

"I think it's great," Weiner said of the matchup with Columbus. "We're kind of familiar with our teams around here so the chance to play a great program from out of the area is a great opportunity. We'll line up and play it like a regular game."

The Panthers still have work to do.

There's the matter of the quarterback position, being split this summer between senior James Few and junior Aaron Banks.

In other interesting matchups, the post-Quentin Williams era begins at Jefferson as the Dragons, last year's Class 3A state champs, host Tampa Bay Tech.

Also, Hillsborough travels to face an improved Plant City squad, up-and-coming Steinbrenner plays at Newsome and new Gaither coach Jason Stokes leads the Cowboys in a North of Tampa neighborhood skirmish against rival Sickles.

All games are slated for 7:30 p.m. unless indicated.

Plant City at Hillsborough

The skinny: This is the premier local matchup of the night. Plant City is going to be an awful lot of fun to watch on offense this season, led by quarterback Bennie Coney, running back Dazmond Patterson and wideout Lamarlin Wiggins. Expect Earl Garcia's stingy defense to provide a good litmus test for the Raiders' O.

Belen Jesuit at Jesuit

The skinny: Jesuit looks to replicate its 11-1 season, the best in recent memory for the Tigers. However, that's a tall order, given that only half of its starters return. But they do have standouts coming back in linebacker Vincent Jackson and receiver Travis Johnson. Belen Jesuit out of Miami comes to Tampa with a team that made the playoffs in 2010.

Berkeley Prep at Sarasota Out-Of-Door Academy (7 p.m.)

The skinny: After an off-season of becoming one of the bay area's most — if not THE most — coveted Division I prospect, Berkeley Prep's triple-threat athlete Nelson Agholor returns to the field for his senior campaign. Agholor and veteran starting quarterback Destin Nichols give the Buccaneers plenty of offensive punch.

Boca Ciega at Tampa Catholic

The skinny: After a quick playoff exit last season, Tampa Catholic returns experience on defense but will rely on youth at the quarterback position in sophomore signal-caller Chivarsky Corbett.

Tampa Bay Tech at Jefferson

The skinny: Two new eras start at these schools: C.C. Culpepper has moved to the college level, and Jayson Roberts takes over as coach at Tech. Meanwhile, Jeremy Earle is the new head man at Jefferson, as Mike Fenton stepped down after leading Jefferson to last year's Class 3A state championship. The Dragons also will get their first look at a reconstructed offense as Florida's Mr. Football, QB Quentin Williams, has graduated. Look for new QB Deandre Porter to keep the Dragons in the mix.

Wharton at Riverview

The skinny: This is a preseason test for two teams looking to rebound from some recent stumbling blocks. Wharton lost in the state finals in 2002 and captured district titles in 2005 and 2008. But the Wildcats have just five victories the past two seasons, while the Sharks went winless last year, including five shutouts.

Alonso at Spoto

The skinny: Alonso went 4-7 last year but reached the playoffs for the third straight year. Elusive tailback Brandon Holloway could be on the verge of a breakout year. Spoto is full of speed on both sides of the ball, but the Spartans will miss playmakers Nick Addison, Tyron Baker and Danny Taylor.

Middleton at King

The skinny: This preseason matchup features a pair of 5-5 teams from a season ago. The Lions do, however, return Greg Windham, arguably the county's best quarterback.

Freedom at Strawberry Crest

The skinny: Strawberry Crest did a more-than-admirable job last year in its first year of varsity competition, going 5-5. The Chargers will lean heavily on quarterback Trey Vandegrift, while Freedom (4-6) is coming off a season in which it lost four games by 10 points or less.

Leto at Lennard

The skinny: Leto suffered through one of the worst public school seasons ever in 2010. The Falcons, who scored 13 points all season, finished 1-9, with their lone win coming by forfeit, despite losing the game 68-0 to King on the field. The Longhorns must replace a number of key starters, including their leading rusher, receiver and quarterback.

Cambridge at Shorecrest Prep

The skinny: Cambridge coach Bob Dare is looking for improvement from this year's Lancers after back-to-back 4-6 campaigns. Depth may again be an issue for Cambridge, who'll put their numbers to the test tonight against an independent Shorecrest Prep squad.

East Bay at Chamberlain

The skinny: Coach Joe Severino's rebuilding project at Chamberlain might hit some tough sledding this year with the move to Class 7A, District 7. Still, look for the Chiefs to move the ball behind emerging junior running back Xavier Johnson. East Bay, meanwhile, moves up from Class 4A to 7A with new coach Frank LaRosa taking over for longtime coach Brian Thornton.

Sickles at Gaither

The skinny: Sickles alternated playoff appearances in 2007 and 2009, so 2011 shouldn't be a problem, right? Wrong. The Gryphons will have to navigate tough waters likely to be ruled by new league foes Armwood, Jefferson and Hillsborough. Gaither, meanwhile, is coming off a summer in which it captured a 7-on-7 title and began breaking in Wesley Chapel-transfer Alex McGough at quarterback. On defense, the revamped Cowboys have playmakers in LB Josh Scarberry and DE Mikhail Reece.

Steinbrenner at Newsome

The skinny: The Wolves are coming off a record-setting 2010, in which they reached the region semis for the first time, losing to Plant 50-23. Newsome has some gaping holes to fill, however, with the graduation of running back Conner Powers and linebacker Joe Worth. Steinbrenner went 5-5 last year but won four if its last six.

Carrollwood Day at Bishop McLaughlin (7 p.m.)

The skinny: Look for plenty of running from Carrollwood Day's Robert Davis, the county's top rusher last year with 1,500 yards, and passing from QB Deuce Gruden, who threw 15 touchdown passes a year ago as Dad and volunteer assistant Jon Gruden looked on. The Patriots also boast a veteran defense stocked with returning players.

Times correspondent Brandon Wright contributed to this report.

North Tampa high school football matchups promise plenty of excitement 08/25/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 25, 2011 5:30am]

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