Finally, Tampa is becoming a football city with roots deeper than the weekend Bulls and Bucs action at Raymond James Stadium.
The local high school game has flourished, thanks to the long-term success of high profile programs at Plant and Jefferson. And this year, add a third: Robinson joins them in the advanced stages of the playoffs with a chance to claim a state title.
Tonight, all three schools will host pivotal tournament games on their home turfs, and the potential has Tampa parents, coaches and alums abuzz.
"It's unreal that all these schools have a shot at the championship," said Mary Scourtes Greacen, whose son Scott plays wide receiver for Plant. "At the game last Friday they were announcing scores and everyone was checking it on their iPhones. It wasn't just Plant against Newsome. Everyone wanted to know how Robinson was doing and was cheering and getting excited for the other schools."
The formidable team at Armwood High in Seffner also consistently makes its way to the playoffs each year, solidifying the area's reputation for good football countywide.
Coaches say the reasons behind Hillsborough's increasing success vary.
"I think the schools in this area raise the bar for the level of play by what we do against each other," said Jefferson head coach Mike Fenton. "You have Plant, Armwood and ourselves who are always in it and we have to play each other every year, so the standard is very high."
One key, Fenton said, is that area schools manage their teams similar to a collegiate football program.
"We maintain our program all year round," Fenton said. "All the really competitive football schools emphasize the importance of the offseason program. It's a strenuous program to run. It's like running a college program, but I think it's helped all of us maintain the level that we have."
Robinson heads to the state semifinals for the second time in two years. Last year, the Knights lost to Glades Central in Belle Glade. If the football team is to be considered among Tampa's elite, players will have to defeat that same team tonight. Should they accomplish their mission, Robinson will make it to the state title game for the first time since 1971.
"People have high expectations around here and if you want to be mentioned with the top schools you have to win a state championship," Robinson coach Mike DePue said. "I think you're seeing a tradition of success in this county now because football has become a year-round activity and the whole business of football has evolved into a monster, from the technology involved to the everyday work that goes into it throughout the year."
DePue has been a coach at Robinson for 30 years. He has seen Hillsborough County football evolve, but for him success has come in cycles.
This go-round, he feels he has a team ready to challenge for a state championship and the right amount of support from both parents and the community.
When many of the players on the current team were freshmen, their record was 1-9, he recalled.
"They were a little better the following year and the last two years we've made it to the state semifinal. This is it. We believe we can do this. I get a ton of e-mails and text messages from parents and people around the community that are supportive and believe in the team. After last week, the attitude in the locker room is very positive, everyone feels like we have a chance to do this."
David Rice can be reached at email@example.com.