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Finally, a chance to play

After weeks of practice and drills, players get a chance to hit somebody in another uniform, even if the scores don't count.

By PETE YOUNG

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 22, 2001


Nearly three weeks of draining daily practice sessions culminates Thursday and Friday for Pinellas County football teams as they participate in preseason games and jamborees.

In other words, they finally get to test themselves against someone besides themselves.

The first inter-squad action of the fall also is the lone chance for coaches to find out how their team measures against others before the season starts Aug. 31. "Will it be a true showing of who we are? No. We won't run everything, and we're playing just two quarters against two different teams," said Palm Harbor University coach Mike June, whose team will play jamboree quarters against Tarpon Springs and Gibbs tonight at Osceola. "But it will give us a chance to see who can block and who can tackle in a game situation.

"You've got to find out who you can count on."

For the players, it's a major relief: Let the games begin.

"They're champing at the bit, so to speak," June said.

Some teams are playing jamboree quarters and halves, others are playing full games. In some games, a quarter is reserved for the junior varsity.

The preseason games also signal an end to rigorous conditioning. Next week primarily will be spent in specific preparation for the opening week's opponent.

Many teams will dispatch an assistant coach to scout their opening opponent since virtually everyone is playing nearby.

One notable exception is Boca Ciega. The Pirates, who play Friday on the east coast at Rockledge, traditionally play their preseason game far from Pinellas County against a tough opponent.

This spring, Bogie headed several hours south to Naples for a game. Last fall in the preseason it traveled to Crystal River. In years past it has played its preseason game at Miami Coral Park and Auburndale.

"A lot of the kids never go out of Pinellas County," Boca Ciega coach Jean Gordon said. "It's a reward for the kids and a bonding experience. The kids get out of town, we watch football video along the way, we play a really good team. We enjoy it."

Last year Gordon nearly negotiated a game in the Keys. This year he worked things out with Rockledge, one of the top programs in the state. Last season Rockledge was 11-2, losing in the state quarterfinal 20-17 to Class 3A state champion Belle Glade Glades Central.

"When the kids come back into the county, fears are going to be less," Gordon said, noting Rockledge's 6-foot-4, 310-pound, highly recruited lineman Clifton Nichols. "We play a lot of good teams (in the county), and playing teams like Rockledge, with the experience it gives the kids, it can only help us."

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