Plant is not the only South Tampa high school football team with a huge game tonight. Its neighbors south of Gandy Boulevard, the Robinson Knights, have a big matchup as well.
"This is the biggest game at Robinson in a whole bunch of years," Knights coach Mike DePue said of his team's big district game against the Jesuit Tigers.
Some would even argue that Robinson's game is bigger, considering the stakes.
Entering the season, the Knights and Tigers were expected to be among the front-runners for the Class 2A-District 5 title. Neither team has disappointed, with Robinson off to its first 3-0 start since 2000 and Jesuit winning three in a row after a season-opening loss to Lakeland Kathleen. Both teams won their district openers last week, and the winning team tonight should be in the driver's seat to earn a playoff berth.
DePue has heard the buzz surrounding the game, and he is hoping it leads to a packed house tonight at Jack Peters Field.
"There's already an electricity in the air - the school, the community," DePue said this week. "We're hoping people come out of the woodwork for this one."
It didn't take Jesuit long to get its first "a-ha" moment of the season. The Tigers' eyes were opened in the opening-game loss to Kathleen.
It was more than the 12 dropped passes, three of which would have been touchdowns. Kathleen was just much more physical than Jesuit (3-1).
"The thing that woke us up was that Kathleen came out and just pounded us," Jesuit coach Joe Ross said. "There were some vicious hits. They were all clean. They just came out and lit us up."
Jesuit certainly woke up, reeling off three consecutive victories, including two against Class 5A opponents and two shutouts. The Tigers are strong in all three phases, but especially on offense as QB Bobby Eveld has asserted himself as a weapon, and he has several targets to throw to.
"We thought we had some weapons, and the weapons misfired in Game 1, but now in the past three games, we've done what we thought we were capable of," Ross said. "T.J. Martinez has made key plays for us. We have a freshman, Travis Johnson, who is a boy in a man's body and a sensational player. But the kid who is really stepping up is Ben Gutowski."
With a physical Robinson team on tap tonight, the Tigers are hoping to prove they have amped up their game.
"Every day we've gotten better," Ross said. "We discovered that football is a physical game and if you loaf, it's potentially catastrophic. We just decided to play football and we've gotten better and better as we've gone along."
It's a season of firsts for new program Strawberry Crest, and Coach Todd Donohoe said the Chargers are eager to take the next step with their first game against a full varsity squad.
Strawberry Crest hosts St. Petersburg Catholic tonight in a Class 2A-District 5 game, which will also be the program's first district contest.
"It should be a good challenge for us," Donohoe said of the matchup with the Barons, who have won three straight after suffering a one-point loss to Berkeley Prep in Week 1.
Strawberry Crest split its first four games, falling to fellow first-year program Steinbrenner in the season opener and to Armwood's junior varsity last week. Those losses sandwiched wins over Plant City and Durant's junior varsity squads.
One notable change for the Chargers has been under center, where Brandon Reaves has taken over as the team's starting quarterback, replacing Andrew Tedder.
Kicking is in his blood
Freedom senior P/K Alex Landeta is asked frequently, and the answer is always yes.
Alex is related to former NFL punter and five-time Pro Bowler Sean Landeta, who retired last year after 25 seasons in pro football. Sean played for the New York Giants from 1985-1992, winning two Super Bowls under Bill Parcells. Sean retired as the second-leading punter in the NFL history with 1,401 punts for 60,707 yards and 381 punts inside the 20-yard line.
"He's a distant cousin, my second cousin," he said. "People who know sports ask me."
Alex said he has seen Sean only on a few occasions.
"I think I kicked some balls to him when I was younger," Alex said.
This season, Alex has punted six times for 224 yards, for an average of 37.3 yards. He also was a member of Freedom's state runner-up boys soccer team last year.
Alex said he would like to play football in college, and with a 6.4 weighted GPA, would consider playing for an Ivy League program.
"If it happens, it happens," he said.
Sean Landeta isn't the only famous person in Alex's family. His great uncle is Braulio Alonso, who the high school in north Tampa is named after.
Fleming makes transition
Throughout his high school career, East Bay senior DT Dontavious Fleming has excelled on the defensive line. At 6-foot-4, 310 pounds, he is more than most opposing team's can handle.
Before the season, however, Coach Brian Thornton moved Fleming to the offensive line because of the team's low numbers at the position.
East Bay is 3-1 heading into Friday's game at Durant, and Fleming's size on the offensive line has greatly contributed to the Indians' success.
"He had no complaints," said East Bay offensive line coach Jim Hutchinson. "With his big body and him getting off the ball hard, it's really helped us. It cuts out a lot of penetration. We run a lot of wall-off and seal-off formations, and people have to run around him."
Fleming realized the move was to improve the team.
"Coach moved me to O line because we didn't have enough players," he said. "I loved it. I love making plays. Most of the yards came from my side. We're a team and if he thinks I'm good on the O line, I don't mind."
Fleming said he has been moved back to the defensive line for Friday's game, but he will still see time on offense.