BRADENTON -- All eyes are on Manatee High, and the Hurricanes' quest for a mythical national championship. But non-district games have no bearing on whether a team plays football beyond the regular season.
Just ask the 2011 Port Charlotte Pirates or Auburndale Bloodhounds.
Those clubs finished a combined for four victories last fall, yet both clubs qualified for postseason play because they won the right games.
Now district games aren't on the docket this Friday for bigger schools.
They are, however, scheduled for teams like Bradenton Christian, Out-of-Door Academy and Saint Stephen's.
In fact, the Falcons already got their district season under way in Class 2A (urban)-District 6 last Friday against Naples St. John Neumann.
Saint Stephen's fell 50-7 to the Celtics are in the awkward position of having to reel off several victories to make the playoffs for the first time in program history.
Meanwhile, districtmate ODA gets its feet wet on Friday at Community School of Naples.
"You can't walk into Community School this week saying, 'This is a third-year football program, yadda yadda yadda, we'll just run over them'" ODA head coach Brett Timmons said. "They've improved a lot over the course of three years, and it's going to be a good game."
CSN has already thrown a wrench into 2A-6 when it knocked off Fort Myers Evangelical Christian 21-14 last week. It was a shocking defeat because the Sentinels have won several district crowns and always seem to make a deep playoff run.
"You have to come out the gate, ready to go if you want to go into the playoffs," Timmons said. "It's kind of like what the Big Ten used to be, where every game matters. So it's exciting, but it also means that your preparation in the summer, your preparation in fall camp, is at a higher
premium than it would be at a district that doesn't start until Week 5 or 6."
The Thunder are reeling after playing Tampa Berkeley Prep and St. Petersburg Catholic in its Kickoff Classic and regular season opener, respectively.
Those teams dominated ODA, with St. Pete Catholic scoring 63 points in three quarters as Timmons and St. Pete Catholic coaches decided to halt the game. The Thunder had previously spent most of the night chasing Florida State University-bound running back Ryan Green, who scored four touchdowns on five carries for 196 yards.
"I think I would take that again," Timmons said. "I think going through the fire we went through with Berkeley Prep and St. Pete Catholic is just going to make us battle-tested. As far as going into district play, it exposed some of the weaknesses that may have been hidden and gives us an opportunity to refocus and get ready for district play."
Thunder quarterback Evan Wilson is ready for district action to start, too.
"I'm excited to get into district play," Wilson said. "Excited to make a statement and get in the hunt for the playoffs."
Bradenton Christian is the only home team out of the three squads with district games this week, and the Panthers play St. Petersburg Northside Christian in their Class 2A (urban)-District 5 opener. Former Tampa Bay Bucs great Mike Alstott is in his first year as Northside's head coach. Both programs are winless after Week 1, but the Panthers are in a good spot to erase those bad memories like ODA and get a victory on Friday.