High School Football

It’s Gameday! Here’s what you need to know for Week 1 of the high school football season

Highlights from the 2018 season for Manatee County football teams

Here are some highlights from the 2018 season for Manatee County football teams.
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Here are some highlights from the 2018 season for Manatee County football teams.

Feel free to rejoice — high school football is back.

After the majority of last week’s Kickoff Classics involving Manatee County teams were canceled — only Bradenton Christian (41-13 over St. Petersburg Shorecrest Prep) and Saint Stephen’s (7-6 over Windermere Prep) were fortunate enough to play, as Mother Nature had her say — we’re all hoping the weather cooperates.

And for starters, we get a matchup featuring two of the state’s premier programs as five-time state champion Manatee hosts seven-time state champ Lakeland in a rematch of a 2018 Week 1 contest, a 36-14 Dreadnaughts victory.

Not to be overlooked: Palmetto hosts Largo Pinellas Park, a team the Tigers eliminated from the postseason each of the past two years.

Finally, IMG Academy’s National team travels to Venice, marking only the second time the Ascenders have played a team from Manatee or Sarasota counties. The first? A 38-12 win over the Indians in October 2017.

Enjoy all of the action.

Here’s what you need to know heading into Week 1 of the regular season:


The Bruins kick off their fourth season under head coach John Biezuns with a trip to Sarasota to face a Sailors squad led by former Braden River running back Brian Battie, a University of South Florida commit who rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 28 touchdowns last season. Bayshore has steadily improved under Biezuns, going from 0-9 in 2016 to 3-5 in 2017 to 5-5 in 2018.

Did you know? Bayshore is seeking its first playoff appearance since 2005 and its first winning season since going 10-2 in 2003.

Braden River

The new-look Pirates — no Knowledge McDaniel, no Bryan Gagg, no Brian Battie, no Clyde Townsend — welcome Largo for their season opener as head coach Curt Bradley’s squad opens its quest for a sixth consecutive postseason appearance. With only two starters returning on offense, Braden River’s experienced defense might have to carry the load early in the season.

Did you know? Braden River is 28-1 the past three seasons against teams other than Venice, but 0-6 against the Indians. The teams don’t play in the regular season in 2019 and can’t meet in the playoffs — the Pirates are in Class 6A and the Indians are in 7A.

Bradenton Christian

Greg Williford was familiar with the Panthers before being named the fourth head coach in program history in March, having spent the past five seasons as an assistant at rival Saint Stephen’s. Williford also was an assistant at Bayshore and Braden River before heading to Bradenton Christian, which travels to Largo Indian Rocks Christian for its season opener.

Did you know? In addition to Williford being a first-year head coach, both of Bradenton Christian’s coordinators — Elton Strawderman on offense and Scott Paravacini on defense — are first-year coordinators.

Cardinal Mooney

With Mooney’s field under construction, legendary coach Paul Maechtle’s second season leading the Cougars begins with four consecutive road games, starting with the season opener at Booker. Cardinal Mooney averaged 30.3 points per game in 2018 but was held to a season-low six in a Week 11 loss to the Tornadoes when the Cougars were decimated by injuries.

Did you know? Cardinal Mooney used six quarterbacks last season — six — during its eight-win season. Senior Ryan Bolduc, who led the Cougars to a 5-0 start in 2018 before suffering a season-ending knee injury, is healthy and ready to lead the offense.

IMG Warren Brinson.jpg
IMG Academy senior defensive lineman Warren Brinson is a four-star recruit who has committed to the University of Georgia. Photo courtesy of IMG Academy

IMG Academy

The nationally ranked Ascenders — IMG is ranked No. 6 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 — play four games against Florida teams this season, the first being a short bus ride to face two-time state champion Venice. IMG’s other three opponents from the Sunshine State all hail from Miami and will travel to Bradenton — Norland in Week 2, Northwestern in Week 3 and Booker T. Washington in Week 6.

Did you know? The Ascenders’ schedule features three games against teams ranked in the Top 25 by MaxPreps, all of which will be played on the road — No. 2 St. Frances Academy (Md.) on Oct. 18, No. 5 St. John’s College (Washington, D.C.) on Sept. 21 and No. 8 St. Joseph’s Prep (Pa.) on Sept. 13.

Lakewood Ranch

The Mustangs have their third head coach in three seasons as former Southeast coach Rashad West takes over a program that went 0-10 in 2018 and has eight victories during the past four years. Looking for their first on-the-field win since September 2017, Lakewood Ranch travels to Cape Coral Ida Baker for its season opener. This is the second straight year the teams have met in Week 1 — Ida Baker won 21-14 last season.

Did you know? Lakewood Ranch is looking for its first winning season since posting a 6-3 record in 2014 and its first postseason berth since 2011.

Manatee and head coach Yusuf Shakir host defending state champion Lakeland to open a difficult three-game stretch to start the season. Bradenton Herald file photo


How is this for a three-game gauntlet to open the season for head coach Yusuf Shakir’s squad — hosting seven-time state champion Lakeland (No. 16 in the nation, according to MaxPreps) in the season opener, making the short trip to Palmetto in Week 2, then welcoming Braden River to Joe Kinnan Field at Hawkins Stadium in Week 3. Those three teams combined to go 32-7 last season, with Lakeland winning the Class 7A state title, and Palmetto and Braden River reaching the region semifinals.

Did you know? Manatee has reached the postseason 10 straight seasons, but the Hurricanes haven’t had a home playoff game since beating Orlando Oak Ridge in the first round in 2015.

Out-of-Door Academy

ODA welcomes Fort Myers Canterbury to Thunder Stadium to kick off head coach Chris Kempton’s second season leading the program. ODA was dominant in last season’s Week 1 win against Canterbury, a 33-7 road triumph, and will look to make it back-to-back season-opening victories against the Cougars.

Did you know? The Thunder, who have reached the Sunshine State Athletic Conference’s playoffs the past two seasons, will play in the SSAC’s four-team Coral League Bay Division along with Bradenton Christian, Saint Stephen’s and Spring Hill Bishop McLaughlin.


Coach Dave Marino’s Tigers open their quest for a third consecutive postseason appearance against Largo Pinellas Park, the team they faced — and defeated — in the first round of the 2017 and 2018 playoffs. Palmetto is loaded at wide receiver as seniors Lajohntay Wester, Eddravian Butler and Kobe Mays are entering their third year as starters. Quarterback Xavier Williams, who was with the program as a freshman and sophomore, is back after spending his junior season at Saint Stephen’s.

Did you know? The Tigers are in Class 6A for the first time and are part of District 12, which includes two other teams from Manatee County (Braden River and Southeast) as well as two from Charlotte County (Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda Charlotte).

Palmetto Lajohntay Wester.JPG
Palmetto’s Lajohntay Wester (shown) will team with Eddravian Butler and Kobe Mays to give Palmetto a trio of top-notch wide receivers. Bradenton Herald file photo

Saint Stephen’s

Coach Tod Creneti has built a Sunshine State Athletic Conference power, with the Falcons reaching the Florida Bowl four straight years and winning the title in 2016 and 2017. The march toward a fifth consecutive appearance begins against St. Petersburg Admiral Farragut, which travels to Bradenton for the season opener.

Did you know? The Falcons have won 31 of 34 games since the start of the 2016 season and haven’t lost back-to-back games in the same season since 2014.


The Seminoles’ Week 1 game was canceled, so Southeast will play a nine-game regular-season schedule. Head coach Brett Timmons, in his second season leading his alma mater, and the Noles will kick off their season on Aug. 30 at Booker.

Did you know? Timmons, who helped Southeast win back-to-back state championships in 1993 and 1994, is looking to lead the Noles to their first playoff berth since 2016.

Week 1 schedule

Friday’s games

Bradenton Christian at Largo Indian Rocks Christian, 7 p.m.

Fort Myers Canterbury at Out-of-Door Academy, 7 p.m.

St. Petersburg Admiral Farragut at Saint Stephen’s, 7 p.m.

Bayshore at Sarasota, 7:30 p.m.

Cardinal Mooney at Booker, 7:30 p.m.

IMG Academy National at Venice, 7:30 p.m.

Lakeland at Manatee, 7:30 p.m.

Lakewood Ranch at Cape Coral Ida Baker, 7:30 p.m.

Largo at Braden River, 7:30 p.m.

Largo Pinellas Park at Palmetto, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday’s game

Grant Career & Technical at IMG Academy Varsity, 7 p.m.

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