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Bob Putnam, Times Staff Writer

Bob Putnam

Bob Putnam has covered high school sports for the Tampa Bay Times as a staff writer since 1996. He is a fourth-generation Floridian who graduated from Dixie Hollins High School and wrote for the student newspapers at St. Petersburg College and USF. He has covered the high school careers of football stars Riley Cooper (CCC/Florida/Philadelphia Eagles), Dante Fowler (Lakewood/Florida/Jacksonville Jaguars), Leonard Johnson (Largo/Iowa State/Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Dexter McCluster (Largo, Mississippi/Tennessee Titans), among others.

Phone: (727) 580-4395


  1. Sunday Morning QB: Week 1 highlights


    Team of the week

    Palm Harbor University. Not only did the Hurricanes snap their neighborhood rival's 25-game regular-season win streak by beating East Lake 14-10, but they also snapped a six game losing streak to the Eagles.

    Such a win didn't seem possible. After all, the Eagles were coming off two straight state semifinal appearances while PHU won just one game last season — and that was by a point....

    River Ridge coach Ryan Benjamin will shave his beard but keep his mustache, and his assistants will grow mustaches, as long as the Royal Knights keep winning.
  2. North Suncoast Game of the Week: River Ridge 10, Mitchell 7


    NEW PORT RICHEY — River Ridge's offensive game plan was pretty simple. It was Chris Schwarz left. Chris Schwarz right. Schwarz. Schwarz. Schwarz. Thirty-four times Schwarz.

    Mitchell's defense knew what was coming and designed a game plan set up to stop the Royal Knights' workhorse back.

    Still, stopping Schwarz was tough to do. The senior finished with 188 yards, including his final crucial 4 yards on the last drive to set up Tyler Grimes for a 39-yard winning field goal for a 10-7 victory....

    Knight running back Chris Schwarz (40) breaks a tackle. The 2015 high school season kicked off for the River Ridge Knights who hosted the Mitchell Mustangs at River Ridge High School on Friday evening, August 28, 2015.
  3. River Ridge, Mitchell relish rivalry even minus district implications


    NEW PORT RICHEY — Mitchell and River Ridge do not belong in the same football classification. They do not compete in the same district.

    So what exactly was at stake when the Royal Knights hosted Friday night's season opener between the neighboring programs?

    To the players and fans from both schools, everything.

    "This rivalry is huge and it's only going to keep growing," Mustangs offensive/defensive lineman Devontay Taylor said this week....

  4. Today's offensive linemen are bigger, brainier and more nimble than ever


    Offensive linemen are a big deal. That much we know. But what does it take to be a good one? For starters, you have to be, well, big. • The days of the 200-pound high school lineman are virtually extinct. Now 300-pounders, once considered an anomaly, are becoming the norm. Consider that 40 of the 79 football programs in the Tampa Bay area have at least one lineman who weighs 300 or more pounds. • It is not just their waistlines that make offensive linemen the big men on campus. It is their height, too, with the top ones standing an average of 6 feet 5. • "I was just talking the other day about how big linemen have become," said Jesuit High coach Matt Thompson, who has three players in the 300-pound club on this year's roster. "When I was coaching at Armwood in 1996, we didn't have any linemen who weighed over 300 pounds and two starters who were 6-5 or taller. Mike Pearson was our biggest guy (6-7, 280). • Now they're like that across the board at just about every school."...

    [DON MORRIS | Times illustration]
  5. Week 1: Game day grab bag


    Notable head-to-heads

    Mitchell DL Devontay Taylor vs. River Ridge RB Chris Schwarz

    After playing a limited role last season, Taylor has become an important defensive presence, a 6-foot-4, 265-pound end who can stop the run with size and rush the passer with his speed.

    In the spring game against Fivay and last week's kickoff classic against Palm Harbor University, Taylor wreaked havoc against opposing quarterbacks with a combined four sacks and a fumble recovery....

    If anyone can stop a 2,000-yard rusher, it’s likely the 6-4, 265-pound Devontay Taylor.
  6. Ten reasons to love high school football in Pinellas County


    Today marks the official start to the 2015 football season — one that promises up to 16 weeks of competition. But outside of the X's and O's, playoff favorites and highly touted recruits, there are a lot of fun things that Pinellas County high school football has to offer. Here are some of our favorites:

    1. Rivalries

    Coaches and players will tell you that every game is a big game, but let's face it, some have more meaning than others. In Pinellas County, some rivalries go back many, many years. Largo hosts Clearwater on Oct. 23 in a rivalry that is one of the oldest in the county. These teams are renewing their grudge match for the first time since 2006 in a game that will have significance now that both are in the same district. And Tarpon Springs hosts East Lake on Sept. 25 in a rivalry that is the most popular in the county, annually drawing thousands of spectators. The Spongers even sell T-shirts just for that game with the slogan, "What's the word? Kill the bird."...

    Clearwater Central Catholic head coach John Davis makes an adjustment with quarterback Jeff Smith during the 3A state title game in 2013.
  7. Two rushing leaders high on talent, low on offers


    River Ridge's Chris Schwarz and Indian Rocks Christian's Zeke McGaughy are hard-charging runners who already have impressive high school resumes. Together, the two combined for 3,825 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns while leading their teams to impressive postseason runs a year ago.

    About the only thing Schwarz and McGaughy have yet to accumulate in abundance are offers from colleges. Each has just one offer from Division I-AA programs — Schwarz with Florida Tech and McGaughy with Southeast Missouri State....

    With a 4.5 GPA and a few college courses already under his belt, record-setting River Ridge RB Chris Schwarz is getting interest from Ivy League schools. (John C. Cotey | Times)
  8. Football: Plant 31, Venice 21


    TAMPA — Plant's biggest task Friday was to figure out a full-time replacement for quarterback Rex Culpepper, the Syracuse commit who tore his ACL three weeks ago and is out for the season.

    The answer was not clear after a 31-21 win over Venice in Friday's kickoff classic. The three vying to take over the position — Judge Culpepper, Dane Frantzen and Kyle Trina — all had their moments but Panthers coach Robert Weiner was still reluctant to name a starter for next week's season opener....

  9. 2015 football preview: Class 7A, District 10


    Another football season is upon us, and we're be examining every local new district — the Florida High School Athletic Association shuffled things a bit.

    Class 7A, District 10

    Countryside, East Lake, Pinellas Park, Seminole, St. Petersburg

    What's new

    Four teams — Countryside, East Lake, Pinellas Park and Seminole — are holdovers from the district (formerly 7A-9) the past two years. There was only one switch after reclassification. Northeast dropped to 6A while St. Petersburg, which was in 8A last season, moves in....

    Seminole's Chris Garza-McLean becomes the featured running back this season and looks to surpass his 650 yards from a year ago. (Jim Damaske | Times)
  10. District spotlight on parity in Class 6A-9


    For the first time in a decade, Largo's relentless pursuit of perfection in games that matter most came to an end. A loss to Venice last season ended the Packers' nine-year reign as district champions, as well as their 38-game win streak against district foes, both tops among Tampa Bay programs.

    Though Largo showed some vulnerability, it also displayed perseverance to make the playoffs as a runnerup and keep a 10-year streak of making the playoffs intact. ...

    Northeast and Jalynn Williams should give teams a run for their money as they drop down a class into an all-Pinellas district.
  11. 2015 football preview: Class 6A, District 9


    Another football season is upon us, and we'll be examining every local new district — the Florida High School Athletic Association shuffled things a bit — over the next two weeks.

    Class 6A, District 9

    Boca Ciega, Clearwater, Dixie Hollins, Largo, Northeast, Osceola

    What's new

    Northeast and Clearwater dropped down to Class 6A, which got them out of a very tough district that included East Lake, Pinellas Park and Countryside. Largo, Osceola and Dixie Hollins move out of the four-team district that included Venice. Boca Ciega moves up from 5A. With the changes, the long-time Clearwater- Largo rivalry has extra meaning. City schools Boca Ciega, Dixie Hollins and Northeast are once again in the same district. ...

    Not much gets past Largo's Javaris Sanders on defense. (Jim Damaske | Times)
  12. 2015 football preview: Class 6A, District 6


    Another football season is upon us, and we'll be examining every local new district — the Florida High School Athletic Association shuffled things a bit — over the next two weeks.

    Class 6A, District 6

    Land O'Lakes, Mitchell, Pasco, Springstead, Sunlake

    What's new

    This district swapped Fivay for Pasco, which makes it even tougher. The Pirates have been one of the county's top teams for years, even if some of its out-of-area dominance dimmed a bit the past few seasons while stuck in a district with state powerhouse South Sumter. ...

    Mitchell's Dominic Fiumara is one of the top returning receivers on the North Suncoast. (Brendan Fitterer | Times)
  13. District spotlight on Anclote


    HOLIDAY — Anclote quarterback Brandon Vinkler has gone through extremes— good and bad — in his two first seasons as the starter.

    Two years ago, he helped the Sharks win their first district title. Last season, Vinkler and his teammates did not win a game.

    "Well, there's nowhere to go but up," Vinkler said. "Last year, we had our heads down a little bit and people were dogging us at school. But we all remained confident, and we feel like we can compete this season."...

    Matt Elkins, a 6-foot-5 tight end with an offer from Florida A&M, gives Anclote’s passing game some pop. (Brendan Fitterer | Times)
  14. 2015 football preview: Class 5A, District 8


    Another football season is upon us, and we'll be examining every local new district — the Florida High School Athletic Association shuffled things a bit — over the next two weeks.

    Class 5A, District 8

    Anclote, Fivay, Gulf, Hudson, Ridgewood, River Ridge, Wesley Chapel, Zephyrhills

    What's new

    This district added two teams, Fivay and Zephyrhills, to make it the largest district that the FHSAA allows. For most teams, the district games come on seven consecutive Fridays, so there is no room for a letdown. Newcomer Zephyrhills may pose the biggest threat after finishing second to South Sumter in a tough Class 5A-6 district that included Pasco and Nature Coast. Also new to the district: Fivay coach John Diehl. ...

    Ridgewood senior Justin Mayorga is one of the Rams’ top tacklers, but he’ll also see time on offense.
  15. Pinellas County's powerhouse swim programs rebuilding

    Swimming Preps

    For nearly two decades, there has been at least one male or female swimmer from Pinellas County who has won an individual state title.

    County high school teams have been triumphant, too. East Lake's girls (2014) and Palm Harbor University's boys (2011, 2013) have won team titles, ending a nearly 30-year drought not only for Pinellas but also for the Tampa Bay area.

    But after a heavy graduating class of state champions that included East Lake's Sydney Pickrem (Texas A&M), Alexandra Aitchison (Duke) and Grant Sanders (Arizona), and Countryside's Cooper Hoffman (Florida State University), the county is left with no returning state champions. No emerging swimmer is a clear-cut favorite to win a title either....

    Lakewood’s Jonathan Long is one of the swimmers to watch this season. The senior is a solid sprinter who has a chance to win a state title, especially in the 50 free where three of the top place winners graduated.