TOWN 'N COUNTRY — Lee Meitzler was back. And he was happy to be there.
He said as much as he walked off the field last Friday after Alonso High's thumping of Freedom High.
After walking away from the game two seasons ago to spend more time with his family, which includes two young sons, the former Jefferson defensive coordinator who is now Alonso's head coach said he's happy about his decision and where he is now.
"It was good to be with the family, but I started to get the itch again, and my wife was happy about it. Maybe it was her way of getting me out of the house," he said.
The decision looked good last Friday as Meitzler's revamped Alonso team had little trouble with Freedom, blanking the Patriots 29-0 in a preseason tune-up.
Despite having to replace record-setting quarterback C.J. Bennett and other key players on both sides of the ball, the Ravens' new coaching staff looks to have a jump on the reloading project.
"The kids played hard like we want them to," Meitzler said. "Our defense flew to the football and made plays."
It was the kind of effort Meitzler anticipated as the Ravens look to make a better run at the playoffs after sneaking into the postseason despite a 4-6 regular season mark in 2009. They will begin pursuit of that goal tonight at Brandon.
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Meanwhile, a neighborhood rivalry and an old-school Tampa rivalry highlight the opening Friday night of the regular prep football season for area squads.
Gaither opens the year down the street at rival Sickles, while powerhouse Jefferson begins the season hosting Hillsborough. In other games, Leto hosts Robinson, Chamberlain hosts Durant, Freedom hosts Riverview and Wharton is at Spoto. Steinbrenner opens its season next week.
All kickoffs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
ALONSO at BRANDON
Last Week: Alonso beat Freedom 29-0; Brandon shut out Riverview 27-0.
Last Year: Alonso beat Brandon 39-7.
The Skinny: Both teams are coming off impressive shutout wins in the preseason.
The Edge: Brandon will try to ground it out with its solid running game. Alonso, meanwhile, will counter with running back Brandon Holloway and a stout defense led by lineman Anthony Chickillo.
ROBINSON at LETO
Last Week: Robinson beat Bradenton Bayshore 19-13; Leto lost to Blake 22-0.
Last Year: Robinson beat Leto 27-0.
The Skinny: The Knights and their dynamic offense head to Leto, which has not exactly displayed much defense in recent seasons.
The Edge: Robinson's quarterback Blake Rice likely will light up the scoreboard.
HILLSBOROUGH at JEFFERSON
Last Week: Hillsborough lost to Bradenton Southeast 14-12; Jefferson beat Chamberlain 49-7.
Last Year: Jefferson beat Hillsborough 16-15.
The Skinny: One of the games of the year last season as Jefferson slipped by the Terriers at the end of the contest.
The Edge: A prolific offense (Jefferson) against a solid defense (Hillsborough). Go with the home team. Jefferson slips by again.
GAITHER at SICKLES
Last Week: Gaither lost to Durant 18-6; Sickles beat Steinbrenner 49-21.
Last Year: Sickles beat Gaither 14-8.
The Skinny: Not only is Gaither trying to rebound from a one-win 2009 season, it is trying to start off 2010 by beating a rival. Sickles running back Cary White looks to start the year in a big way.
The Edge: If the Gaither defense isn't improved, White will have his way with them. And if they are, he still might. Sickles wins.
DURANT at CHAMBERLAIN
Last week: Durant beat Gaither 18-6; Chamberlain lost to Jefferson 49-7.
Last year: Durant beat Chamberlain 17-3.
The Skinny: Durant has a playmaking quarterback in Je'Twan Smith while the Chiefs (1-9 in 2009) are just looking for playmakers anywhere.
The Edge: Another rough game for Chamberlain as Durant takes this one.
RIVERVIEW at FREEDOM
Last Week: Riverview lost to Brandon 27-0; Freedom lost to Alonso 29-0.
Last Year: Freedom beat Riverview 49-19.
The Skinny: A meeting of teams that scored zero points collectively in their preseason meetings, although Riverview's game was cut short by rain.
The Edge: Freedom's offense can move the ball behind new quarterback Dominic Moreno. And that should be enough to get past the Sharks.
WHARTON at SPOTO
Last Week: Wharton beat Bloomingdale 24-6; Spoto lost to Newsome 13-12.
Last Year: Spoto beat Wharton 28-0.
The Skinny: Wharton may get a boost this season from the talented running tandem of David Larry and Jonathan Mayhem. Spoto had issues stopping the run in its tune-up contest last week.
The Edge: Could the tide be turning for Wharton? This game may yield some clues.
Rod Gipson can be reached at email@example.com.