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Kickoff Classics loom for county teams

Posted on Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 6:03 am

Hunter Knapczyk will double at wide receiver and linebacker for Poinciana Friday. Photo/Martin Maddock

By Rick Pedone
Sports Editor
After nearly three weeks of hitting one another in the oppressive August heat, the county’s football teams play under the bright lights Friday at the preseason Kickoff Classics.
All of the county’s programs are slated for action.
One of the more intriguing matchups occurs at Kowboys field, where host Osceola welcomes Dr. Phillips at 7:30 p.m. for a game pitting Class 8A state finalists over the past three years.
Osceola made it to the state title game in 2014 (in Class 7A) and in 2015 (8A). Dr. Phillips reached the 8A title game last year.
The Panthers were one of the obstacles OHS had to overcome in the 2015 regional finals. In a thriller, linebacker Trey Shine’s fourth quarter interception and TD return was the difference in Osceola’s 20-19 victory.
Kowboys Coach Doug Nichols, who put a half-dozen playoff teams on the Kowboys schedule for 2017, said this would be an important test for his team, once again considered a potential state finalist.
“We’ll see right away where we stand,” he said. “Dr. Phillips is pretty strong, like they usually are.”
Osceola returns most of its starters from last season, when it went unbeaten during the regular season but lost in the regional quarterfinals.
St. Cloud will host Orlando Boone at 7:30 p.m. The Bulldogs return most of an explosive offense from last season for Coach Bryan Smart.
“We are playing a big-time team in Boone. They are so well coached and big on both sides of the ball,” he said. “We are really excited about our offensive and defensive lines, so we are excited to see how we do against them. I know our kids are ready to hit someone else and not have me blow the whistle so fast.”
Gateway rolls to Tampa Freedom at 7:30 p.m. with a large cast of new starters. But, the team’s primetime talent, defensive end Dennis Briggs, is back along with linebacker Kirk McDonald and Triston Thomas under Coach Marlin Roberts.
Roberts is looking forward to seeing how athletes like Philly Bangura, Kywan Allen, Tim Usilton, freshman Danny Cassilas and transfer Tyler Tyrell perform. All will be key members this season, Roberts said.
The team lost Khalil Lisbon, who transferred, and Jeremiya Messan, who became ineligible due age because of new FHSAA rules. Two more starters, Patrick Kelly and Jaleal Maloney, transferred to OHS.
Poinciana hosts Clearwater International Friday at 7 p.m., but the team will have to replace quarterback Kobe Oldfield, who transferred to Georgia for family reasons. Oldfield accounted for most of the team’s offense in the spring game. Coach Ken Knapczyk knows Oldfield’s replacement well – his son, linebacker Hunter Knapczyk. Coach Knapczyk said that T.J. Brooks also is working at the position and will get the start Friday.
“It definitely put a wrench into things, but we have a couple of players to back (Oldfield) up,” said Knapczyk. ” TJ and Hunter Knapczyk have worked well together, but I felt Hunter would be better suiting the team as a wide receiver on offense.”

Coach Knapczyk said that it is important that his team play well Friday, even if it doesn’t count in the standings/

“This game is huge for us. This will set the tone for the season. We been together going on our third year together and this is the year we need to turn the corner and begin winning more consistently,” he said. “We have many returners this year and our new players to the program look to be buying in and understanding what we need to do. Bottom line: win!

Three new head coaches will take their teams on the field Friday.

Celebration, under Jay Sobke, hosts Fort Meade at 7 p.m. Harmony takes the road to Space Coast at 7 p.m. under Coach Don Simon, and Liberty and Coach Doug Gabriel travel to Palatka at 7 p.m.

Poinciana and Osceola will open the regular season Aug. 24. The Eagles travel to ESPN Wide World of Sports to play a team from Whittier, Calif., and Osceola goes to state finalist Lake Gibson.

All other county teams play their regular season openers Aug. 25.