It's that time of year. School is back in session, the brutal summer heat is peaking and football pads are pounding in practices across the bay area. Regular-season football games are just days away, but coaches and players will get a run through with tonight's kickoff classics.
And while one North of Tampa team is looking at 2014 with serious playoff intentions (Sickles) and others expect to be in district title mixes (Gaither, Carrollwood Day, Alonso), several are trying to figure out their identities (Chamberlain, Freedom, Steinbrenner, Leto). All kickoffs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. unless noted.
Carrollwood Day at Vero Beach St. Edward's, 7 p.m.
Why you should go: Vero Beach is a nice late-summer vacation spot. And Carrollwood Day's offense is nothing to sneeze at. The Patriots, who are looking for a third straight playoff appearance, averaged 36 points a game last year. And that was CDS' lowest per-game output since 2008.
Sickles at Tampa Catholic, 7 p.m.
Why you should go: Ever heard of this Ray Ray McCloud III character? Sickles is by no means a one-man show, with a full-fledged passing game supplied by Isaac Holder to go along with McCloud and his 3,832 career rushing yards. The Crusaders have an athlete who can match up. Nate Craig, a transfer from Pasco High, is one of the best receivers in the country. The trick is who will be charged with getting him the ball.
Sunlake at Steinbrenner
Why you should go: To see offense standouts on both sides of the ball. For Steinbrenner, Kezio Snelling is worth the price of the admission. A do-it-all performer for the Warriors, the Division I prospect scored nine touchdowns last season. Meanwhile, Sunlake's offensive weapon is Nathan Johnson, who tallied 10 straight 100-yard rushing games last year en route to 1,500-plus yards and 16 touchdowns.
East Bay at Chamberlain
Why you should go: To see just how good the teams might be in 2014. The defensive-minded Chiefs saw their playoffs hopes sink last year after three straight tough district losses (Hillsborough, Jefferson, Robinson) by a total six points. East Bay is in uncharted territory trying to defend its first district championship.
King at Alonso
Why you should go: To get a good look at one of the county's best quarterback prospects. Alonso's Chris Oladokun threw for 2,000 yards in his first year as a starter. Oladokun and the Ravens may be a sleeper in their district.
Wharton at Gaither
Why you should go: Both teams are in transition but not without talent. Gaither graduated quarterback Alex McGough, so the Cowboys will shift to more of a ground attack and lean on running back Curtis Wilder. Wharton's offense will be a passing attack, spotlighting 6-foot-5 wideout and FSU signee Auden Tate.
Clearwater at Hillsborough
Why you should go: This out-of-county matchup features one of the bay area's best quarterbacks, Hillsborough senior Dwayne Lawson. The Terriers missed the playoffs last year for only the second time in 21 seasons under coach Earl Garcia. That's something the Terriers and Lawson, a Miami commit, do not want to repeat in 2014.
Tampa Bay Tech at Blake
Why you should go: TBT's Deon Cain, like McCloud a Clemson commit and leader of an exciting offense, has several quality targets, including a freshman named Levi Jackson already getting people talking about his college potential. Blake had a good offseason of 7-on-7, finishing second in an Ocala tournament. The Yellow Jackets have a star player in defensive lineman Shavar Manuel, and one of the best quarterback names around in Sam Oxendine.
Berkeley Prep at Gulf
Why you should go: Berkeley Prep fans who have never been to Gulf will enjoy the literal old-school look and feel of Des Little Stadium, with its concrete bleachers and community feel from the public address announcer. Berkeley has a good quarterback in Brad Mayes, many options in the run game and a terrific lineman in Bo Peek.
Leto at Riverview
Why you should go: Both teams had a rough 2013 — Leto went winless while Riverview won two games — so this is a chance for one to start the season on a high note. Riverview returns two backs (Keisean Young and Fred McCoy) who ran for more than 700 yards each and will again look to chew up opponents on the ground. Leto is deep at receiver, with three tall targets standing 6-4.
Freedom at Bloomingdale
Why you should go: Brian Surcy inherits a Bloomingdale team that won three of its final four games to finish 6-4. The Bulls will lean heavily on the combination of quarterback Isaiah McIntyre and receiver Logan Crouse. Freedom's strength is defense, even with the loss of Miami commit Scott Patchan to IMG.
Correspondents Darek Sharp and Brandon Wright contributed to this report.