With more than a month until kickoff, J.T. Curtis is already counting his River Ridge (La.) John Curtis high school football team's contest against Tampa (Fla.) Plant as a victory.
The outcome of the game might not go the way of the coaching legend, and regardless of the scoreboard, it is a monumental win to even have the game being played in conjunction with the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
"I get excited anytime high school football gets the recognition it deserves," Curtis said. "It has been our goal to bring a major national event to New Orleans and to have that goal realized is something special and something that should be celebrated."
Curtis has celebrated plenty since starting the football program in 1969 at the private Christian school that bears his father's name. Curtis has 506 victories and 24 state titles to his credit, but with the rise of out-of-state game -- and the lack of a willing opponent to come to New Orleans -- he was forced to take it upon himself to land one.
"We had a tough time getting people to come here and that is no secret," Curtis said. "Last year we kicked this event off with local teams. This year, with the addition of Plant and Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln, I think we have taken the event to another level."
The contest is Rivals.com's top-ranked, out-of-state game in the country.
According to Plant head coach Robert Weiner, that additional recognition will add to the fevered pitch that is already on his campus.
"Excitement it at an all-time high here," he said. "Our kids get excited about just about anything that involves football, so telling them that this is a game that everyone in the country will be paying attention to will get them more excited."
Plant is no stranger to big games or playing out-of-state teams. It defeated Oradell (N.J.) Bergen Catholic in 2011 and fell to Abilene (Texas) High in 2010. Weiner and his staff have helped the program to state titles in 2008, 2009, and 2011.
Finishing the season has not been an issue for Plant; Starting strong has.
It is a trend that Weiner hopes can change this season.
"We hope that this game being our third game will have some of our errors worked out," he said. "I don't say that being guarded or cautious because we know what we are getting into, but we just haven't started well. We want to, trust me, we do. I would much rather us start out great and get to exceptional than start out good and get to great.
"As a program, we have tended to get better towards the end of the season and that has helped us when it counts. But we are going to have to be moving in that direction earlier this season because from what I am hearing, this could be the best team they have ever had, and that says a lot with that program."
The Curtis program is 506-54-6 in its 42 years of existence -- after an 0-10 inaugural season -- and J.T. Curtis only trails Summerville (S.C.) High coach John McKissack in wins all-time.
Curtis echoes the excitement for the upcoming group.
"This is a good group of boys," he said. "I think we have a chance to be pretty special."
Both Curtis and Plant will begin the season inside the Top 15 of the RivalsHigh 100, making the selection as the top out-of-state game that much easier.
"We have played with expectations on us before and not fared well," Weiner said. "I look at this group and those expectations do not shake them. I feel really good about this game and I think as coaches we learned from our failures."
Weiner added that he hopes to not repeat the mistakes he made when his team was the preseason No. 1 team in 2010.
Preseason Top 10 OOS Games
The game between John Curtis and Plant tops our list but it is not the only great game that high school football fans can expect to see. While this is far from a complete list of all of the great out-of-state games it is our Top 10 entering the season.
Tampa (Fla.) Plant at River Ridge (La.) John Curtis
Miami (Fla.) Central at Loganville (Ga.) Grayson
Olney (Md.) Good Counsel at Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman
Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes at Chesapeake (Vir.) Oscar Smith
Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco at Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas
Hoover (Ala.) High at Batesville (Miss.) South Panola
Euless (Texas) Trinity at Bellevue (Wash.) High
Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Santa Margarita at Phoenix (Ariz.) Brophy
Louisville (Ky.) Trinity at Cincinnati (Ohio) Archbishop Moeller
Jenks (Okla.) High at DeSoto (Texas) High
"We weren't ready for it," he said. "I think everyone made mistakes in handling that situation but this is different."
Curtis has never had a national championship, and with a signature win over a marquee program, the foundation would be in place for a top billing.
"Win or lose, it will be a great game," Curtis said. "But to beat a team of that caliber and have a chance to have everyone see what kind of team we have and get recognized with even a mention of national rankings would be an added bonus.
"They are a team that has a reputation that precedes them, so I think that we will be in for a battle. I hope that both teams enjoy the contest and enjoy New Orleans."
With football aside, the enjoyment of playing in out-of-state contests is what Weiner hopes his players take from this experience.
"It is great for everyone involved," he said. "We loved our trip to Texas and I am certain we will like New Orleans."
Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan said that his organization has always been in support of high school football and that this event can further that cause, as well as bring positive attention to the community.
"Our early vision was to create high school games of national significance, and already we're seeing that concept take shape based on the excitement surrounding this year's games," he said. "The match-up between Curtis and Plant is receiving national attention and [Covington (La.)] St. Paul's and Lincoln will give us another outstanding event that will promote high school football and drive tourism for the city of New Orleans."
Hosting a game with New Orleans as a backdrop, as well as it being named the top game in the country, leaves Curtis is proud of his latest accomplishment.
"I don't know many people that come to this city and leave unhappy," he said. "For hosting events and accommodating people New Orleans is one of the best.
"Having these two teams playing a quality football game will be a bonus."