0 for Orlando? For first time in two decades, area might not produce state high school football finalist
Thursday, November 15, 2012
by Jeff Greer
More than 600 high school football players from Clewiston, Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast will pull on jerseys Friday night for their first-round games in the 2012 Florida high school regional playoffs.
None of them was born the last time (1991) this area failed to produce a team that played for a state championship. This could be the year that breaks that streak.
For the first time in a long time, none of the public schools in the muck -- Clewiston, Glades Central or Pahokee -- is a state power. Classes 7A and 8A, which both have quality local teams in their classifications, have extraordinarily tough roads to the state title game, and the best squads in those classes are from elsewhere.
Maybe the biggest trouble is that the area's most likely title contenders, American Heritage and Glades Day, could face better-than-the-real-state-title-game matchups in the regional finals after Thanksgiving.
Heritage, if it wins Friday, likely will see Fort Lauderdale-University, the 10th-ranked team in MaxPreps' national poll. And Glades Day would likely play Miami-Dade Christian, which is favored against Village Academy in the first round and considered South Florida's best 2A team by multiple computer rankings.
Does that mean 2012 has been a "down year" by local standards?
Not necessarily, though it's been 10 years since a local team didn't win a state title, and American Heritage still made the 1A state championship game that 2002 season. True down years happened twice in the 1990s, when the state championships seemingly featured everyone but local teams in the 1990 and 1991 state finals. Or even farther back, like the mid-1960s when from 1963-67 nobody from the area played for a ring.
What could help this year's area teams avoid inclusion in that group of dud-not-stud years? Heritage and Glades Day just so happen to have Greg Bryant and Kelvin Taylor, respectively.
"It's tough to use the term 'down year' when describing an area that has two of the nation's best running backs," said Chris Nee, a Florida State correspondent for 24/7 Sports who's covered recruiting since 2006. Of course he added to the discussion the area's numerous massive linemen and Glades Central's all-purpose phenom Will Likely for good measure.
But why aren't more teams good? Perhaps it's because the area's talent is so spread out. Over the previous two seasons,clusters of standout players formed at familiar schools, like Dwyer's memorable 2011 class. Glades Central and Pahokee put out record numbers of college signees each fall for most of the last decade, but this year, combined, they'll likely graduate one Division I signee.
Only one team, Heritage, has a true, two-hands-worth collection of legitimate Division I prospects this year. And to make matters more difficult, the typical roads local teams took to state title games got a lot choppier in recent years.
Take Pahokee, which, yes, has seen a significant drop-off in talent over the past three years. Only in the past four seasons have the Blue Devils played in districts with either American Heritage or University. Before that, it was usually smooth sailing on the way to the state title game.
Maybe this is all too pessimistic.
Maybe Bryant and Taylor can gallop past their vaunted second-round opponents and run their teams to Orlando. It wouldn't exactly match this area's dominant 2006-10 run, which saw at least three area teams play for state titles each year.
But it'd be better than 1991.