The third week of high school football practice wraps up today. Sweat and technique mix with pounds of protective padding as these boys run into each other — willingly, no less. This torturous right of passage is renewed each August on local high school fields and it can only mean one thing: Football is right around the corner.
I began writing for the Times in 2001, covering high school football in Hillsborough County. My Friday nights unfolded on the area's sidelines, but it wasn't until I transferred to Pinellas County three years ago that I realized how much I miss football in Hillsborough.
The athletes were more impressive over here, the coaching staffs more knowledgeable and the crowds bigger.
To say the least, it's a pleasure to be back.
We'll have plenty of time to dissect local teams. But since there are so many unknowns in the preseason, let's take a more lighthearted look at some Friday night traditions.
Top snack stands
All of the area schools' snack stands do quite a good job. Believe me, after working in Pinellas County for three years, it isn't a given that each school will have a quality food setup. However, tops in the area is a tie between Riverview and East Bay.
Besides the usual fare, Riverview's stand carries a carnival favorite that is delectable – turkey legs. One of these brontosaurus-sized legs is enough to tide you over for the game.
East Bay also features a unique favorite: Frito pie. What in the world is Frito pie, you ask? I had the same question the first time I went to an East Bay game many years ago. It's Fritos, smothered in chili and covered in cheese. If you're into fat, salt and more salt, this dish is for you. Add raw onions at your own risk.
Hands down, nothing beats the Wood on a Friday night. Armwood has a first-class field, rowdy student section and an imposing tradition that keeps building every year.
The stands and walkways are thick with students, the sidelines are filled with college scouts and every team that takes the field knows it's in for a long night.
There are a number of solid people working as head coaches in the area, but talking to East Bay coach Brian Thornton is always a treat. In the SportsCenter age when even sophomores know all the cliche answers to your questions, Thornton is a breath of fresh air.
The longtime Indians' coach is frank, accessible and downright funny.
Games to watch
Armwood at Plant, Sept. 5: The opener will be a dozy as the Hawks return to South Tampa for a game televised nationally on ESPN.
The last time Armwood played at Plant, former Panther and current University of Miami quarterback Robert Marve carved up the Hawks on the way to a state title.
Last season, the Hawks returned the favor by pounding Plant at Armwood.
Riverview at Durant, Nov. 7: This should be a big district matchup in the second-to-last week of the season.
The schools are right down the road and these teams never have really liked each other much.
Plant City at Brandon, Nov. 7: Both teams reached the playoffs last year and should slug it out for district supremacy again.