All signs point to another strong year for high school football in south and central Tampa.
Though Plant struggled in its first game last week, it was against a defending state champion in Tallahassee Godby. And Hillsborough, Jefferson and Robinson all look to have the talent for a deep playoff run. But it's possible that only one of them will make the playoffs because of the district realignment of 5A-8, which includes perennial powerhouse Armwood and now includes Robinson.
Jesuit is on the other end of the spectrum, going from a nine-team group that included Lakewood and Robinson to a three-team group of the Tigers, Middleton and Spoto. That figures to be a much easier road to the playoffs. But the Tigers aren't taking it easy.
Here's a look at this week's contests. Hillsborough is idle (and jumps right into it against Jefferson in Week 2).
Madison County at Tampa Catholic
Last week: Madison defeated Live Oak Suwanee 20-14; TC lost to Sickles 34-20.
Why you should go: To see if the Crusaders can get some revenge for the 2007 state title loss. Tampa Catholic may be in for a tough night, but it won't be intimidated. After a slow start last week, TC got the offense going with Kyle Ploucher tossing a pair of second-half touchdowns.
Jefferson at Alonso
Last week: Jefferson defeated Plant City 48-26; Alonso lost to King 20-18.
Why you should go: To see what could be one of those 49-48 games. Jefferson put on a show in its preseason game. QB Deiondre Porter going 10-of-13 for 253 yards. Ventell Bryant caught two of Porter's TDs, one for 85 yards. And the Dragons have a new running back in sophomore Mondreas Lofton, who had nine carries for 143 yards, a long TD run and a 92-yard kickoff return score. Alonso's numbers weren't quite as prolific, but the Ravens still have threats in RB Ish Witter and receiver Marcus Mosely.
Sickles at Robinson
Last week: Sickles defeated TC 34-20; Robinson defeated Seminole Osceola 51-6.
Why you should go: To see what probably will be a high-scoring thriller. Hand it to new Robinson head coach Shawn Taylor. With the Knights opening an eight-game district haul against Jefferson and Armwood, he's preparing his team with a couple of really tough opponents (Robinson is at Plant next week). Though not as loaded as the 2012 state semifinal team, Robinson will still be a tough beat. Sickles comes in with all eyes on Ray Ray McCloud, who ran for three touchdowns and added two more on returns last week. This will be a treat.
Newsome at Tampa Bay Tech
Last week: Newsome did not play; TBT defeated Blake 56-0.
Why you should go: Because — and this is big news — the Titans have a passing game. While Tampa Bay Tech's turnaround from doormat to annual playoff team has been impressive, the Titans haven't progressed far in the postseason mostly due to a one-dimensional approach. But if Deon Cain's five-touchdown performance last week is a sign of things to come, watch out. Newsome comes off an impressive run to the region finals, but has major shoes to fill with the departure of Navy signee QB/LB Will Worth.
Brandon at Blake
Last week: Brandon beat Lakewood Ranch 23-21; Blake lost to Tampa Bay Tech 56-0.
Why you should go: Blake should be a lot more competitive this week. Corey Bennett was a bright spot with 62 yards on 18 carries and freshman Juwan Burgess led the Jackets with 11 tackles. Brandon, meanwhile, enters with a big pep in its step after coming back to beat Lakewood Ranch on a long touchdown pass in the final minute.
Jesuit at Hardee
Last week: Jesuit defeated Palm Harbor 19-14; Hardee was off.
Why you should go: Because you love the Tigers. Hardee isn't exactly right around the corner. With only two district games, the Tigers have eight slots to fill on their schedule. And they picked some tough ones, including this opener. Later, Jesuit goes up against Lakewood Ranch, Largo, Clearwater Central Catholic and tough foes from Ocala and Orlando.
Middleton at Berkeley Prep
Last week: Middleton lost to Strawberry Crest 30-0; Berkeley Prep defeated Gulf 23-7
Why you should go: Middleton had few highlights, namely a Tiquan Brown 75-yard run that lead to no points, and a couple of players going out to injury last week. But it's always worth making the trip to Berkeley, just to check out a truly neat set of athletic facilities (walk into the volleyball/basketball building when you get a chance). And the Bucs look pretty strong again. The Tigers have seven nondistrict games before playing Spoto and Jesuit back-to-back to decide who will be the playoff qualifiers.
King at Freedom
Last week: King defeated Alonso 20-18; King lost to Bloomingdale 30-14.
Why you should go: To see what promises to be a tight game. King got a pick-me-up with a late defensive touchdown to surprise Alonso, but didn't have much going offensively. Freedom has a big-time player in defensive lineman Scott Patchan.