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