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Gaither pulls no punches with football schedule

The Cowboys are a district favorite this season, and they’ll certainly be tested week in, week out.
Gaither quarterback Tony Bartalo (7) looks to pass during a game last season against Wiregrass Ranch. MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE   |   Times [Tampa Bay Times]
Gaither quarterback Tony Bartalo (7) looks to pass during a game last season against Wiregrass Ranch. MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times [Tampa Bay Times]
Published Aug. 22, 2019
Updated Aug. 22, 2019

TAMPA — The 2019 schedule looks rather brutal for Gaither.

The first four weeks, for instance, the Cowboys play perennial tough guys Jefferson, Plant, Plant City and East Bay. After that the schedule includes more of the area’s best in Chamberlain, Tampa Bay Tech and state powerhouse Armwood, which looks as loaded as ever.

“Looks good to me,” said third-year Gaither coach Kirk Karsen. “It’s going to do nothing but make us better.”

This could translate as tough news for the Cowboys’ Class 6A, District 6 district opponents — Land O’ Lakes, Fivay and Freedom.

Yes, Land O’ Lakes went 7-3 last year and the Gators do appear to be the toughest district test to the Cowboys, but maybe not quite tough enough.

Gaither still looks like the heavy district favorite.

RELATED: Football provides a purpose for Gaither’s Sammie Lee

The reasons for the Cowboys’ optimism are many:

• A solid quarterback in senior Tony Bartalo (1,613 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018).

• A much improved offensive line, including Andrew Kilfoyl, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound transfer from Academy at the Lakes.

• A fast, aggressive defense featuring big-time athletes, including senior linebacker Chance Coleman (committed to USF), junior defensive back Jordan Oladokun (major college offers), sophomore defensive end Mario Eugenio (already on major college radars) and senior linebacker Sammie Lee (a major-league hitter).

• Playoff experience. The past two years Gaither made the playoffs in Class 7A, finishing 7-4 in 2017 and 8-4 last year.

RELATED: HomeTeam 15: Football rankings for Tampa Bay

Gaither is also opening up its offense from more a traditional approach with the quarterback often under center, to a more up-tempo shotgun attack, spreading the ball around.

“I love the fast pace,” Bartalo said. “We’ve had some time to get it down and now we’ve really got it going well. Everybody is on the same page. It’s exciting to be a part of this.”

Expectations, in the meantime, are higher than ever and though Karsen doesn’t like to look too far ahead, it appears this Gaither team is capable of running deep into the playoffs.

“But first things first,” Karsen said. “We have four tough games to start and I think we will learn a lot about ourselves in that stretch.”

High school football, Week 1

All games Friday night.

Clearwater Central Catholic at Berkeley Prep, 7

Carrollwood Day at St. Petersburg Catholic, 7

Central at Umatilla, 7

Cambridge Christian at Winter Garden Foundation Academy, 7

Melbourne Central Catholic at Calvary Christian, 7

Weeki Wachee at South Lake, 7

Zephyrhills Christian at Lake Placid, 7

Bishop McLaughlin at Jacksonville Christ’s Church, 7

Fivay at Lecanto, 7

Lakeland Tenoroc at Hudson, 7

Seven Rivers Christian at Bayshore Christian, 7

Tampa Catholic at Naples Palmetto Ridge, 7

Admiral Farragut at St. Stephen’s, 7

Gibbs at Boca Ciega, 7

Bradenton Christian at Indian Rocks Christian, 7

Shorecrest at Northside Christian, 7

Palm Bay Heritage at Clearwater, 7

East Lake at Nature Coast, 7:30

Plant at Armwood, 7:30

Sunlake at Springstead, 7:30

Pasco at Land O’ Lakes, 7:30

Zephyrhills at Wiregrass Ranch, 7:30

Chamberlain at Tampa Bay Tech, 7:30

Gaither at Jefferson, 7:30

Robinson at Hillsborough, 7:30

Plant City at Jesuit, 7:30

St. Petersburg at Lakewood, 7:30

Northeast at Tarpon Springs, 7:30

Pinellas Park at Palmetto, 7:30

Lake Gibson at Hernando, 7:30

Anclote at Mitchell, 7:30

Cypress Creek at Wesley Chapel, 7:30

Osceola at Gulf, 7:30

River Ridge Crystal River, 7:30

Middleton at Alonso, 7:30

Blake at Riverview, 7:30

Newsome at Bloomingdale, 7:30

Wharton at Brandon, 7:30

Durant at King, 7:30

East Bay at Lennard, 7:30

Freedom at Steinbrenner, 7:30

Strawberry Crest at Leto, 7:30

Orlando Christian Prep at Seffner Christian, 7:30

Sickles at Spoto, 7:30

Immokalee at Clearwater Academy, 7:30

Palm Harbor U. at Dixie Hollins, 7:30

Largo at Braden River, 7:30

Dunedin at Keswick Christian, 7:30

Watch live

Friday’s Plant-Armwood game will be streamed at or download The Identity Tampa Bay’s app.


  1. You'll find Chimera Iloanya and Seffner Christian at the Lakewood MLK Holiday Classic this weekend. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    Looking for some stellar hoops matchups this holiday weekend? Hosts Lakewood and Chamberlain have you covered.
  2. Hillsborough senior forward Cantia Rahming, right, is among the nation's leaders in rebounds per game. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
    The senior has been a menace on the boards after missing out on significant playing time in last year’s run to the state final four.
  3. In his one season at Middleton, Mike Williams led the grieving Tigers to a 5-5 record. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    The former Plant High player takes over for David Mitchell, who steps down to deal with health issues in his family.
  4. Florida receiver Josh Hammond (18) on the field during practice for the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field on Monday. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Plus Plant High product Jake Fruhmorgen’s journey from Clemson to UF to Baylor to the East-West Shrine Game.
  5. Justin Lucena has been with Sunlake since he was a freshman, enduring losing seasons before the recent turnaround. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
    The Seahawks endured years of losses but confidence is high in this group that a playoff run, and possibly a district title, are in reach.
  6. Teammates watch as Lakewood's Elijah Jackson leaps from near the free-throw line as he goes up for a slam dunk during practice. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    No matter how tight a game, the green light is always on for the Spartans boys basketball team, a state title contender again, to rattle the rim.
  7. University of Florida commit Alexa Goldberg is a veteran presence for a St. Petesrburg team that hopes to return to the state final four. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  TImes]
    The Green Devils’ roster may not be the same, but there is still that mix of youth and experience that served them well a year ago.
  8. Marcellus Crutchfield was just one Tampa Catholic player whose family recently hosted Australian players from a prominent Catholic school in Melbourne. [LUIS SANTANA  |  Times]
    The Crusaders are the perfect hosts for a Catholic school team from Australia that is enamored of the American game.
  9. Dionte Blanch, right, and East Lake remain on top of our rankings after running their unbeaten mark to 15-0. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    East Lake, the last remaining unbeaten team in the area, remains in the top spot for the second straight week.
  10. Tampa Prep's Kailyn Gilbert (2), center, charges past Wesley Chapel's Ameria Christopher (5) during a game earlier this season. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  TImes]
    When it comes to scoring and rebounding, these three girls and guys are among tops in the state. And word to the wise: Stay out of Kailyn Gilbert’s way.