BRADENTON — Manatee’s season of firsts begins Friday.
The Hurricanes play out of state next week when they head to Woodland Hills, Pa. And they will play live on ESPN for the first time during Friday’s Kickoff Classic at 7 p.m. against Tampa Plant in a rematch of last year’s Class 5A state final.
This game doesn’t mean nearly as much as that one did. But the presence of ESPN will inject some juice into the final exhibition game before the regular season begins next Friday.
“We’ve had some clips on TV,” said Manatee coach Joe Kinnan. “But never a full game.”
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Plant has won three state titles in the past four years and is led by running back/linebacker James Wilder Jr., one of the best players in the country who verbally committed to Florida State last week. Manatee, which returned to the state final last year for the first time since 1993, has its share of stars such as Mike Blakely, Quenton Bundrage and Quinton Pompey.
“When you’re going to be out there on display everywhere in America,” Kinnan said, “you want to put your best foot forward.”
That said, the rematch won’t be the only — nor first — local game this week.
Out-of-Door Academy, which reached the Class 1B final four last year, heads to Tampa Berkeley Prep at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Three county schools are home Friday — Bayshore hosts Tampa Robinson, Lakewood Ranch plays Sarasota and Palmetto and first-year coach Dave Marino welcomes Riverview for 7:30 p.m. kickoffs.
It will be the first of two meetings this season between the Tigers and Rams, who play again Oct. 15 in a non-district meeting at the Ram Bowl.
Southeast treks to Tampa for a 7:30 meeting with Hillsborough, and in the night’s lone all-area matchup, Braden River and its new coach, Don Purvis, visit Cardinal Mooney at 7:30 p.m.
Bradenton Christian and Saint Stephen’s both head north, with the Panthers heading to Lakeland Christian for a 7 p.m. start and the Falcons going to St. Petersburg Admiral Farragut for a 7:30 p.m. game.
The regular season begins Friday, Sept. 3. Manatee’s slate begins the following night, when the Hurricanes face Woodland Hills, Pa., at 8 p.m. Saturday.