By STEVE JACKSON
The pre-season Jamborees, the hot, humid summer practices and the Kick Off Classics are all wrapped up. The 2023 football season starts for real this Friday night, Aug. 25 for five high schools of the South Shore. Scores and statistics will be official as of 7:30 p.m. when the pigskin is booted down field for the official opening of a brand new gridiron season.
Sumner High hosts Bloomingdale. The Stingrays compiled an 8-3 mark last season, making it to the first round of the 4M playoffs. This year, more is expected out of Sumner, and for the record it all starts versus the Bulls who were 4-6 last season.
Trying to re-capture some of the same magic that East Bay Coach Mike Gottman spun in its 10-2 playoff run last year could possibly be beyond the means of the young talent assembled at the Big Bend Road school for the 2023 season. Coach Gottman is opening his third year as head coach at East Bay. The Indians host Middleton High, a 6-4 Tampa team last year.
Experience is a key factor for Coach Gottman’s squad, an ingredient that usually, if it is missing, leads to losing some ball games.
After the Middleton game this Friday, East Bay hits the road for the next four of five games. Sickles High, 1-9 last year, welcomes East Bay to Tampa for a Sept. 8 clash. Then Coach Gottman’s young Indians have a short trip Sept. 14 to neighborhood rival Riverview, a 5-5 break-even squad in 2022. The Indians are back at Big Bend Road for a home game versus Jefferson High from Tampa Sept. 22. Jefferson last season was 2-8, including a 35-25 loss to EB. Two more road games follow on the 2023 schedule. The Indians bus to Spoto High Sept. 29 and travel to Tampa again Oct. 6 to see what Chamberlain High has to offer in 2023. Last year, EB dominated Chamberlain 72-0. Three straight home games follow in October: Lennard Longhorns. Oct. 13; a Berkely Prep visit Oct. 20; and Bloomingdale, Oct. 27. Berkeley was a 14-0 winner in Tampa last year. East Bay, unless it can miraculously make the playoffs, ends the 2023 season Nov. 3, hosting another Tampa squad, King High, smashed by the Indians 45-0 last year in a 3-8 King campaign.
Under Head Coach Tony Rodriquez, the Riverview Sharks have a winnable first few weeks in 2023 before the going gets tough for the Sharks, 5-5 last year. Brandon High, 1-9 last year and 0-10 the year prior, brings a perennial weak team to Riverview Aug. 25. Then, with only East Bay coming to Riverview on Sept. 14, the Sharks travel for five of the next six contests. After the Oct. 13 visit to Sumner, Riverview plays its last three games at home. Strawberry Crest visits Oct. 20; followed by Durant, Oct. 27; and, barring a playoff, Steinbrenner High comes to Riverview, Nov. 3, to close the Sharks’ 2023 season.
Spoto High, coached by Keith Chattin, opens its 2023 regular season with two games at home, starting this Friday with a visit from Robinson High of Tampa. The Spartans are looking to improve on last year’s 4-6 mark overall. On Sept. 1, the Strawberry Crest team from Dover will come to play at Spoto. Following that are three straight away games for Spoto: at Alonso, at King and at East Bay. Leto High visits Spoto for an Oct. 6 game and then two Friday nights under the lights. First is an Oct. 13 trip to Bloomingdale and then, on Oct. 27, a trip to engage the Lennard Longhorns at Ruskin. Nov. 3 is Spoto’s last season game, a clash with Freedom High at Spoto.
The Lennard Longhorns are re-grouping under new coach KB Belton after slipping to 1-9 last season. First up Aug. 25 is a trip to Tampa to tangle with the Hillsborough Terriers. That will be followed by home games versus two Tampa teams: Sept. 1 versus Robinson High and Sept. 8 against Middleton. Then it is back on the bus to Lutz to contend with Steinbrenner High. Always-tough foe Durant is next with a Ruskin game set for Sept. 22. On tap for Sept. 29 is an away date with Bloomingdale. Then Sumner rolls into Ruskin for the Oct. 6 game. East Bay is the destination for the Oct. 13 away game.
Lennard then wraps up its home schedule Oct. 27 hosting the Spoto Spartans. A Nov. 3 Horns jaunt to grapple at Armwood ends the regular season.