NEW PORT RICHEY — The 2008 renewal of what may be west Pasco's most intense football rivalry is glittered with a Golden subplot. Or so it seems.
When Gulf buses 6.2 miles to face Ridgewood on Friday night, the undefeated Bucs will bring along the kid projected to be the Rams' top tailback this season.
Junior Adrian "Bubba" Golden flourished for Ridgewood in the spring, then in seven-on-seven action, before moving to his grandmother's house in Holiday and transferring to Gulf. For a kid who has tallied 664 yards in four games, it was his shiftiest move to date.
He never told Rams coach Chris Taylor he was moving. "I didn't want to hurt him; I just didn't know (what to say)," Golden said Monday. "I was just at a loss for words."
Now Golden is set for his return to Rams Booster Stadium, albeit in black and green. The tense undercurrent accompanying his arrival will reek of black and blue. Golden is the second prominent back in as many years to transfer from Ridgewood to Gulf.
David Williams, who ran for more than 2,000 yards as a Buc last fall, is the other.
"I had never met (Golden) before (he came to Gulf). Ever," Bucs coach Jay Fulmer said.
Fulmer's insistence notwithstanding, many believe the Rams will step onto their field Friday harboring a vendetta larger than the federal deficit. Bash Bubba is the presumed game-week mantra for Ridgewood. But any such Golden story line may be proverbial pyrite.
Do the Rams want to shut down their ex-teammate? Of course.
Do they want to shut him down for the rest of the season? Of course not. Even Sterling Ross, who replaced Golden as the Rams' primary ball carrier and admits to an "up-and-down" relationship with Golden, acknowledges Bubba has a bunch of close friends on the Rams roster.
"They can't get his name out of their mouths," Ross said.
"Ah, man, I can give you a list," Golden said when asked about his buddies at Ridgewood, which he attended for only one year.
"(Two-way sophomore) Austin Jackson, (lineman) Jake Smith. I met a new friend, (backup quarterback) Scotty Kujak; he's real cool. And me and (quarterback) Jimmy Mattos are real tight, and (linebacker) Tim (Rearden). You can ask them. I text them. We talk all the time.
"Nothing changed, just the school."
Nonetheless, Golden, which will be without complementary back Tevin Gamble (leg), will be a focal point Friday.
Though Gulf (4-0) has shown balance in its first four games — junior Madison Burr has passed for 641 yards and five touchdowns — the Rams (2-1) must contain Golden (11 touchdowns) to keep Gulf from controlling the ball for long stretches.
"He's a good back. I believe he's one of the best in the county," Taylor said. "He'll make you pay if you miss tackles on him and don't do your assignments correctly. We have to rally to the football, and we can't worry about just stopping him because they have other weapons."
In the grand, Golden scheme, that's the real key on Friday: holding Bubba in check instead of holding a grudge.
"He was a good kid," Taylor said. "He was in the role like I had with (Byronell) Arline; I cared about him and tried to do anything possible for him. That was just a rough scenario."