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Three Southwest Florida all-star football teams are vying for spots in next week’s FBU national championships in Naples, competing in a regional event this weekend at Barron Collier High School.

All three levels – sixth, seventh and eighth grade – will be taking on a team from Tampa on Saturday. A win will put the Southwest Florida squads in the Florida regional championship games Sunday.

“Obviously, we’ve got the best athletes from Lee and Collier counties,” Southwest Florida eighth-grade coach Ryan Williams said. “We’re in really good shape, and we expect it to be a tough game Saturday. Special teams and defense will be big, being able to flip the field and take advantage of the other team’s mistakes. Whoever makes the fewest mistakes will likely have a big edge.”

The eighth-grade squad is led by all-around athlete Aiden Gousby from Riverdale. The speedster plays wide receiver, defensive back and also returns kicks on special teams. The squad will rotate three quarterbacks, with a pair from Naples in the mix – Dylan McNamara from Community School and Dominiq Ponder from the Naples Gators. Lee County’s Duncan Smith is the other quarterback, and will likely draw the starting assignment.

“Duncan played for me before, so he’s got the best grasp of the system,” Williams said. “He’s also got a really quick release; he gets the ball out of there really quick. But Dylan has got an absolute cannon and Dominiq can make things happen with his speed in space, so we plan to give them all some playing time.”

The seventh-grade squad, led by coach Shay Rogers, returns much of last year’s squad which fell 8-6 as sixth-graders to eventual national champion Dade County in last year’s regional event.

“This is my fourth year of being a part of the tournament and from what I’ve noticed, it’s mostly a defensive game,” Rogers said. “The offenses usually don’t have enough time to get their schemes together. The ones that do are the ones you see putting 40 points up on the board. The thing that will help our team is most of the kids are pretty familiar with each other. And they know from last year that they can compete with anybody.”

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Doug Berman, CEO of FBU's parent company, says Hurricane Irma did not affect plans for the middle school tournaments. Adam Fisher/Naples Daily News

Among the names to watch for the Southwest Florida seventh-graders are quarterback Hosea Booker (South Naples Trojans), wide receiver Rodney Rogers (South Naples Trojans), running back Mario Jolicouer (Golden Gate Titans) and cornerback EJ Bennett (Riverdale).

The sixth-grade all-stars are also looking quite formidable, according to coach Justin Hardin.

Among Southwest Florida’s top players is wide receiver/safety Winston Watkins, cousin of South Fort Myers graduate and current Los Angeles Rams receiver Sammy Watkins. Other players to watch include quarterback Tanner Helton (Lee County Hawks), running back Boozie Ebinezer (Naples Hurricanes) and running back/linebacker Demarion Salters (Naples Gators).

Hardin said he’s just trying to get his team playing at a peak level this weekend.

“It’s really hard to prepare for a tournament like this; there's no film. You don’t really know what systems the teams run or who the top players are,” Hardin said. “You just try to get each individual ready to carry out their assignments to the best of their abilities.”

Should Southwest Florida win its games Saturday, there’s a good chance perennial power Dade County will be waiting. Dade has teams in all three levels and is always considered one of the favorites to advance.

“They’re looking forward to the challenge,” Williams said. “They know people outside this area don’t expect them to compete, so they’re thriving on that underdog role. They’re getting the chance to show Southwest Florida is a hotbed of good football players and good athletes. We’re ready to show everyone what we’ve got down here.”

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FBU Florida region championship

at Barron Collier

Saturday, Dec. 9

8 a.m.   Sixth grade, Tampa vs. Southwest Florida

10 a.m. Sixth grade, Dade County vs. Central Florida

12 p.m. Seventh grade, Tampa vs. Southwest Florida

2 p.m.   Seventh grade, Dade County vs. Panama City

4 p.m.   Eighth grade, Tampa vs. Southwest Florida

6 p.m.   Eighth grade, Dade County vs. Panama City

Sunday, Dec. 10

8 a.m.   Sixth grade consolation, semifinal losers

10 a.m. Seventh grade consolation, semifinal losers

12 p.m. Eighth grade consolation, semifinal losers

2 p.m.   Sixth grade championship, semifinal winners

4 p.m.   Seventh grade championship, semifinal winners

6 p.m.   Seventh grade championship, semifinal winners

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