July 17, 2012

Florida teams highlight out-of-state games in 2012

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Dallas Jackson is the High School Football analyst for Rivals.com. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

Winning the state of Florida is not enough for Robert Weiner.

The head coach of Tampa (Fla.) Plant wants more and, he says, so do the other coaches in his state.

"Coaches all around our state talk about where the best football is played," he said. "The talk is the same states, Texas, California, Georgia, Ohio and, obviously, Florida. I think what makes our coaches maybe a little different than other states is that we want to go find out and not just talk about it.

"Florida has incredible football and we are so competitive just within our own group of teams but it isn't just about that, people here are thinking about what's more. We are thinking about what's next. We are trying to put the focus on our kids and we care about national polls and winning major out-of-state games."

It is that aggressive attitude that helps push Florida to the top spot for states playing out-of-state games.

It is also that mindset that pushed Weiner to be involved in the nation's top out-of-state game when Plant takes on River Ridge (La.) John Curtis.

Weiner said he feels confident enough to speak for other coaches in his state because he sees so many going out-of-state.

"Every Florida team on that level thinks like us," he said. "When your name is thrown around in national considerations you have to. You have to have your coaches and your kids wanting to be the best and going out and playing the best is how you push your program forward."

Rivals.com Florida analyst Chris Nee agrees, adding that the attention the program gains from the exposure can help in many areas.

"Those games create a great deal of buzz in the media, whether they are televised or just draw more national coverage," he said.

"The appeal of being in a game that will be nationally televised or at least draw more attention is a major reason for it. Programs want to draw that attention to improve their financial standing with better sponsorship deals," Nee said. "It is clear that programs that have made the out-of-state games a regular part of their schedule have benefited in that regard."

Plant was the first school to leave Hillsborough County in nearly 20 years two seasons ago, when it played at Abilene (Texas) High. It also was part of a doubleheader last year playing Oradell (N.J.) Bergen Catholic alongside Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee, which played host to Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco.

Manatee was to play two out-of-state games this year -- one against Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline the other against Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate -- but both fell through after a sponsor pulled its promised funding.

Those two are not alone with an aggressive travel itinerary.

Miami (Fla.) Central will travel to Loganville (Ga.) Grayson, a year after taking on both Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County, and Prattville (Ala.) High away from South Florida.

Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas, by its own standards, is taking it easy this year as it is only slated to host national power Don Bosco. Each of the last three seasons the Raiders have played multiple out-of-state opponents, traveling to Prattville, Dallas (Texas) Skyline, and Columbus (Ohio) Upper Arlington, as well as hosting Camden County, Concord (Calif.) De La Salle, and Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes.

According to Weiner, going out-of-state is made easy by the Florida High School Athletic Association and is a point of pride within the state.

"It is just paperwork, step-by-step, and no resistance from (the FHSAA)," he said. "It really makes it easy to go on the road, much easier than hosting a game many times.

Florida's Top 10 OOS Games
The game between Tampa Plant and River Ridge (La.) John Curtis tops our list but it is not the only great game that Florida high school football fans can expect to see. While this is far from a complete list of all of the Florida out-of-state games it is our Top 10 entering the season.
Tampa Plant at River Ridge (La.) John Curtis
Miami Central at Loganville (Ga.) Grayson
St. Thomas Aquinas versus Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco
Delray Beach American Heritage at Monroe (La.) West Monroe
Miami Booker T. Washington at Cedar Hill (Texas) High
Cocoa High at Oradell (N.J.) Bergen Catholic
Tallahassee Lincoln at Covington (La.) St. Paul
Ft. Lauderdale University at Trotwood (Ohio) Trotwood-Madison
Pensacola Pine Forest at Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson
Cooper City High at Lexington (S.C.) High
"We also want to prove where we belong nationally. Texas has great football, but they do not travel. It isn't that they are not playing the big games, they just don't travel to do it. I think being on the road tests the mettle of your team and helps grow their character."

Nee adds that the experience is just one part of the puzzle for Florida teams.

"One part of it is the ability for those games to be a unique experience for the players," he said. "Allowing them to travel and play different opponents -- similar to a college experience."

The other part, according to Nee, is that teams want from all over want to play the best from his state.

"Out-of-state opponents are willing to host those schools to compete with some of the best teams in arguably the best state for high school football," he said. "Florida teams want to hit the road and show their strength, going against top-tier teams from out-of-state and regularly winning those matchups."

One of the major changes is that it is not just the bigger teams in Florida that are taking calls and making trips. Cocoa (Fla.) High, Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington, Delray Beach (Fla.) American Heritage and Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) University are schools that are not in the top half of enrollment in the state, but are taking on some of the major schools from around the country.

Cocoa has been playing multiple out-of-state opponents over the past three seasons, with varying levels of success, but will travel to play Bergen Catholic and host Philadelphia (Pa.) St. Joseph's Prep this year.

Booker T. Washington has an enrollment of fewer than 1,000 students, but is headed to Texas to play Cedar Hill, which will more than triple that number.

American Heritage will go to Louisiana to play one of the most storied schools in the largest classification, Monroe (La.) West Monroe.

Relative newcomer University School is going to Ohio to play defending Division II state champion, Trotwood (Ohio) Trotwood-Madison.

Nee believes that all of those teams have more to gain than lose.

"It is definitely worth the risk for the teams," he said. "While some Sunshine State high school football fans will snicker at defeats to out-of-state opponents, the schedule that matters is the one that allows you to reach the playoffs and play for a state championship. If a team loses to a team in Texas or Ohio, but it helps them prepare for a deep run into December, then the decision to play that out-of-state opponent is beneficial."

With so many of the best teams in the state seeing those benefits and making the decision to travel, the list of quality out-of-state games is likely to grow before it begins to shrink.

"We could stay local and fill a solid schedule if we wanted," Weiner said. "Curtis may not be much more difficult than [Seffner (Fla.)] Armwood has been for us but if you don't play Curtis you don't really know."

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