By STEVE JACKSON
In a stark contrast, experience met rookie in Tampa last Friday evening as the Hillsborough High Terriers trounced the Lennard Longhorns, 36-0, to open the 2023 regular high school football season in the South Shore.
Four teams other than Lennard also opened their 2023 campaigns, with three winning handily and one more losing.
Sumner, looking like an improved powerhouse over last year’s stellar squad, stomped the Bloomingdale Bulls (see separate article in The Observer News, print and digital). East Bay dumped Middleton High, and The Riverview Sharks demolished Brandon. Spoto joined Lennard at 0-1, falling to Robinson High, giving South Shore football a 3-2 record the first week of the season.
The contrast referred to in the opening of this article was the match-up at Tampa and Hillsborough County’s oldest high school, pitting the visiting Lennard Longhorns versus the Hillsborough Terriers. Lennard’s head football coach KB Belton was in his first game as the Longhorns new head coach. Coach Belton, 33 years old and taking over a Lennard team that went 1-9 last season, was facing one of the most legendary high school football coaches in all of Florida—Coach Earl Garcia.
Coach Garcia has been head coach at Hillsborough High since 1993. Hillsborough has been a high school since 1882. The 71-year old Garcia, in his 50th year as an assistant or head football coach, is the winningest coach in Hillsborough County high school football history. Last year, Coach Garcia led his Terriers to a dominating victory over Lennard. In this season’s game, Lennard managed to “hold” the score to 36-0 in favor of Hillsborough.
Lennard’s Coach Belton observed that Hillsborough had too much size and talent for Lennard. “We hurt ourselves with two first-half fumbles,” said the Longhorns new coach after his debut with the Horns. Coach Belton is looking for a better game and a better outcome this Friday, Sept. 1, when Robinson High comes to Ruskin after belting Spoto last week 32-7. “Robinson is a comparable team to Lennard, and this should be a good battle,” added Belton.
East Bay High found some new players on offense and defense to replace some of the graduated stars from last year’s 10-2 team. The Indians were sparked by Miles Thompson on defense along with senior Landon Hernandez, sophomore Jacob O’Brien and junior Dravyn Oblak. Thompson led a well-rounded EB defensive attack with an interception for a score and a pair of tackles. William Boyd, a 6-2, 185 pound junior, stepped in at quarterback and looked good. Boyd completed four of nine passes for 115 yards and a TD and rushed for 56 yards. Mr. Consistency at running back for East Bay, senior Jaelin Sneed, picked up where he left off last year. Sneed carried 18 times and piled up 141 yards. The biggest new player of the game for Coach Mike Gottman was running back Anthony Laurent. The junior tallied four touchdowns. Laurent scored three times on the ground as he rushed for 72 yards on 10 carries. Plus, he snagged three of Boyd’s aerials for 101 yards; one for a TD with the longest reception was a 56 yarder. Laurent also ran for a two-point conversion. Perhaps Coach Gottman’s biggest surprise was the emergence of a new placekicker, Kaydien Saul. The senior booted seven PATs and hit a 35-yard field goal for the Indians.
After knocking off Middleton 38-6, East Bay now faces a little tougher challenge next Friday night, Sept. 8, versus Sickles High in Tampa. The Gryphons are also 1-0, topping Jefferson 26-12 last week. East Bay is 3-1 overall against Sickles, winning a 61-40 donnybrook last year.
Riverview High, led by Coach Tony Rodriquez, also exhibited a ton of offensive prowess behind running back Dontarius “Rico” Shoats and quarterback Aaron Turner in a 52-0 pasting of hapless Brandon High. Next up for the Sharks, Sept. 1, are the Freedom Patriots in Tampa, losers in their opener, 40-0 to Alonso.
The Sharks look ready to improve last year’s 5-5 breakeven season with Shoats and Turner piling up the stats against Brandon. Senior Shoats rushed five times for 117 yards and caught three passes for 54 yards. Rico scored twice. Senior Turner hit nine of 19 passes for 190 yards and three TDs. He also picked up 65 yards on the ground. Wide receiver Isaiah Washington, a junior, also got in on the offensive act, grabbing three passes for 89 yards and a score and rushing for 33 more yards. Junior Warren Shriver appears to be Coach Rodriquez’ go-to-man with place kicking as he hit 4 of 6 extra points. Defensively, Riverside also dominated Brandon as four seniors, Marcus Carey, JJ Johnson, Ronald Blake and Xavier Rivers, paved the way for the Sharks.
The Spoto High Spartans joined Lennard as the other South Shore squad to drop its opener. Coach Keith Chattin’s squad fell to 0-1, losing 32-7 to Robinson in Spoto. The Spartans are gearing up for another tough home game Sept. 1. Strawberry Crest comes visiting from Dover, bringing a 1-0 mark after opening with a 28-7 win last week over King High. Spoto is looking to upgrade its offense and to receive continued impressive play on defense from senior Justin Walter, junior Christopher Harris, junior Kaiel Stewart, sophomore Elijah Vega and 6-2, 340 lb. senior D’Vontaye Pumphrey, who blocked a Robinson field goal attempt.