TAMPA — Don't tell Plant tonight's kickoff classic is just a preseason game.
Coach Robert Weiner wouldn't listen anyway.
So when the Panthers start the 2011 season at home against Miami Columbus, they'll be playing to win — and doing all the regular evaluating and note-taking that accompanies exhibition games.
"I think it's great," Weiner said of the matchup with Columbus. "We're kind of familiar with our teams around here so the chance to play a great program from out of the area is a great opportunity. We'll line up and play it like a regular game."
The Panthers still have work to do.
There's still the matter of the quarterback position, being split this summer between senior James Few and junior Aaron Banks.
In other interesting matchups, the post-Quentin Williams era begins at Jefferson as the Dragons, last year's Class 3A state champs, host Tampa Bay Tech.
Also, an improved Plant City squad travels to Hillsborough, up-and-coming Steinbrenner plays at Newsome and new Gaither coach Jason Stokes leads the Cowboys in a North of Tampa neighborhood skirmish against rival Sickles.
All games are slated for 7:30 p.m. unless otherwise indicated.
Miami Columbus at Plant
The Skinny: The state runners-up at Class 5A in 2010, Plant begins pursuit of another title run with a better-than-average exhibition game, inviting in private school power Miami Columbus, a playoff participant in each of the past eight seasons. Now, with both squads jumping up to the new Class 8A level, the two could possibly square off again in December. Weiner said tonight's matchup would help the Panthers prepare for a tough opening stretch that includes Jesuit, Hillsborough and a contest against Bergen (N.J.) Catholic on Sept. 16.
Tampa Bay Tech at Jefferson
The Skinny: Two new eras start at these schools: C.C. Culpepper has moved to the college level, and Jayson Roberts takes over as coach at Tech. Meanwhile, Jeremy Earle is the new head man at Jefferson, as Mike Fenton stepped down after leading Jefferson to last year's Class 3A state championship. The Dragons will also get their first look at a reconstructed offense as Florida's Mr. Football, QB Quentin Williams, has graduated. Look for new QB Deandre Porter to keep the Dragons in the mix.
Seminole at Robinson
The Skinny: So just where are the Knights and coach Mike DePue right now? Trying to replace almost all of their starters on both sides of the ball from last year's team. With its quarterback, top rusher and top two receivers graduated, Class 5A Robinson is looking to re-establish its offensive identity. The team will get a tuneup against a 7A Seminole squad that also suffered heavy losses to graduation.
Plant City at Hillsborough
The Skinny: This is the premier local matchup of the night. Plant City is going to be an awful lot of fun to watch on offense this season, led by quarterback Bennie Coney, running back Dazmond Patterson and wideout Lamarlin Wiggins. Expect Earl Garcia's stingy defense to provide a good litmus test for the Raiders' O.
Blake at Brandon
The Skinny: Brandon had a great run in 2011, reaching the postseason for the first time since 2007 and finishing 9-2. But the Eagles graduated top rusher Darius Lee and do-it-all Shawn Council. After back-to-back 1-9 seasons, the Yellow Jackets finished 4-6 last year.
Middleton at King
The Skinny: This preseason matchup features a pair of 5-5 teams from a season ago. In addition to perennial powers Hillsborough and Armwood, Jefferson joins King's district this season. The Lions do, however, return Greg Windham, arguably the county's best quarterback.
Belen Jesuit at Jesuit
The Skinny: Jesuit looks to replicate its 11-1 season, the best in recent memory for the Tigers. However, that's a tall order given that only half of its starters return. But they do have standouts coming back in linebacker Vincent Jackson and receiver Travis Johnson. Belen Jesuit out of Miami comes to Tampa with a team that made the playoffs in 2010.
Berkeley Prep at Sarasota Out-Of-Door Academy (7 p.m.)
The Skinny: After an off-season of becoming one of the area's most — if not THE most — coveted Division I prospect, Berkeley Prep's triple-threat athlete Nelson Agholor returns to the field for his senior campaign. Agholor and veteran starting quarterback Destin Nichols give the Buccaneers plenty of offensive punch.
Boca Ciega at Tampa Catholic
The Skinny: After a quick playoff exit last season, Tampa Catholic returns experience on defense but will rely on youth at the quarterback position in sophomore signal-caller Chivarsky Corbett.
Times correspondent Brandon Wright contributed to this report.