Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In Nebraska, Fans Mourn the Death of 'Out State' Football

There was a time where ‘out state’ teams from Nebraska would make a run for Class A state championship honors. Gone are those days. When Kearney won it in 2006, it may have been the last time in a long time that an ‘out state’ team hoisted the state championship trophy in Nebraska’s large-school classification.

Not so long ago, powerhouses came via Grand Island and an occasional rotating basis from the likes of Fremont, Columbus, and Norfolk. Before Kearney won it two years ago, Norfolk was the last ‘out state’ school to win a state football championship in 1994.

The year before Norfolk’s triumph, Hastings went unbeaten to win the Class A title in 1993. Hastings dropped to Class B the following season and won it again in 1994.

Columbus had a nice run in Class A in the 1990’s, winning playoffs games in 1992, 1994, 1995, and 1997. In 2000, the Discoverers lost in the Class A semifinals to eventual champion Lincoln Southeast. But Columbus has not won a playoff game since and dropped to Class B in 2008.

Fremont’s last appearance in the state championship game was in 1986 when the Tigers lost 14-0 to Omaha Creighton Prep, which was part of Creighton Prep’s run of six titles in seven years and five in a row. The Tigers have qualified for the postseason seven times since their state final appearance, winning two first round games before falling in the next round in 1996 and 1998.

Some regard Fremont’s 1970 team as one of the greatest of all-time, still owning a Class A record for single-game scoring in an 85-0 victory over Omaha Bryan that season.

Grand Island was more consistent over the years. The Islanders won Class A in 1978 and finished as the runner-up in 1987 and 1990. From when the playoffs started in 1975 through 1991, Grand Island qualified for the playoffs 14 times. In nine playoff appearances since 1995, Grand Island has won two postseason games.

Kearney has been the most successful ‘out state’ program over the past decade. Kearney won the 2006 state title over Omaha Westside and has been to the playoffs seven times over the past 10 years. According to 2008 enrollment figures, the Bearcats the 24th largest school in Nebraska. Twenty-eight schools occupy Class A. Since 2002, Kearney has been to at least the semifinals four times.

Open enrollment in suburban Omaha and Lincoln has essentially killed off ‘out state’ football. When these ‘out state’ schools drop out of Class A when Lincoln and suburban Omaha open doors on new schools, these ‘out state’ schools have to fight off private schools for championship honors.

Out of the 32 schools in Class B, four of them are private. Five out of the past 15 years, private schools have won state titles in Class B. In Class C-1, the state championship went to private schools 10 times over the past 15 years.

Six-time Class A state champion Lincoln Southeast sunk fast when Lincoln opened shiny, new Lincoln North Star and Lincoln Southwest.

Only on two occasions since the playoffs started in 1975 has a school from the Omaha Public School system won a state championship. Omaha Central owns both honors, winning titles in 1984 and 2007.

Football fans in towns such as Grand Island, Kearney, Columbus, Fremont, and Norfolk will need a herculean effort to claim a Class A title in the future.

It’s sad that ‘out state’ football is dead.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Do Private Schools Have an Advantage Over Public?

In Oklahoma, message boards are inundated with discussions concerning certain advantages of private schools over public schools.

Since my arrival here in 2005, it seems like the subject comes up monthly. For the most part, it is people from smaller towns whining about private schools from bigger cities winning championships. Quite frankly, the discussion is getting old.

These fans from small towns do have a point. If you are a small town with one high school, schools get what they get within the district. Private schools from bigger cities have more people, which sometimes means more talent.

However, schools from cities and suburbs such as Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and even Lawton also have a huge advantage over schools from places such as Bartlesville and Enid. More often that not, bigger cities have something called open enrollment. If there is a solid program within these cities, athletes will travel to these schools to participate.

Bishop McGuinness High School in Oklahoma City takes the brunt of the private school criticism. When you win eight total state championships in the 2007-2008 school year, a heavy dose of criticism comes with it. The Fighting Irish won two straight football titles in 4A (first two in school history) entering the 2008 season and have won three straight state boys basketball championships.

Despite McGuinness’ dominance on the gridiron – which included 28 straight victories at one point – only one player from either state title team went to play college football at the Division I level on scholarship. This season for the 6-2 Irish, one player has Division I talent in tight end/defensive end Gabe Ikard.

Most of these whiners suggest McGuinness recruits within Oklahoma City due to a win-at-all-costs mentality. Following the McGuinness state title team closely in 2006 as the sports editor of the MidCity Advocate, to merely suggest that McGuinness recruited to win a state football championship is ludicris. If McGuinness recruited, wouldn’t more players have went on to play football at the Division I level?

McGuinness won its first state title by buying in to a team concept. It was one of the most well-coached teams these eyes have ever seen, led by born leader and quarterback Joseph Krenger. McGuinness pounded the ball down your throat with three different running backs and played solid defense. At any level, public or private, if you run the ball well and play stingy defense, it is a recipe for success.

Some of these small town fans also suggest that Oklahoma should divide private and public schools into two separate divisions, like in Texas.

First of all, Oklahoma is not big enough to form two separate divisions. Oklahoma does not have enough private schools to conceivably believe it would be feasible to form an organization for private schools. For a state the size of Oklahoma, the amount of classifications it has for football is insane already.

For all of these small school complainers, where are the complainers from Class 6A suburban schools such as Moore, Norman, and Midwest City? All three suburbs have at least two 6A public high schools, with Moore opening a third just two months ago. Tulsa Union and Broken Arrow both have between 4,200 and 4,500 students, whereas these schools in suburban Oklahoma City hover in the neighborhood of 1,500.

Which is more of an injustice? A private school from a big city playing a school from with a smaller public school with the same enrollment? Or Tulsa Union lining up against a Midwest City that has 3,000 less students? Or better yet, a Tulsa Union lining up against a school such as Enid that cannot possibly benefit from open enrollment?

Mid-Del Public Schools have three public high schools within its district; Midwest City, Del City, and Carl Albert. Midwest City and Del City participate in Class 6A, while Carl Albert has been the most dominant football program in Class 5A over the past two decades. If you were to take the enrollment of Midwest City, Del City, and Carl Albert combined, the Mid-Del super school would not be larger than Tulsa Union and Broken Arrow.

Carl Albert, winners of nine football state titles since 1989, proves it can be done in a public school system. If “recruiting” in private schools was as prevalent as some would suggest, why hasn’t Tulsa Bishop Kelley been more dominant in Class 5A?

At last check, Jenks and Tulsa Union have combined to win the last 12 state championships in Class 6A football. Pundits from around the country, including myself at times, want to put Jenks amongst the top programs in the nation for winning nine of those titles.

Is Jenks winning at a level playing field? Jenks, according to the last ADM released by the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, had 2,800 students. Jenks is still ranked third in Oklahoma in attendance, but is still 1,400 students less than rival Union. If Jenks doesn’t win it, in theory, Tulsa Union or Broken Arrow should because most of the schools it will face on the road to the state championship will have half the students.

With open enrollment at Tulsa Union and Jenks, is it still fair? If private schools allegedly have an advantage of public schools, which they don't, a similiar injustice takes place in Class 6A.

Oklahoma has no choice than to lower the number of classes and ask Union and Broken Arrow to split up.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Don't Mess With Texas (In High School Football)

The debate is ongoing. For eternity, there will be no right or wrong answer.

Which state is the best for high school football?

The opinion of a few self-proclaimed “experts” generates the national rankings. The USA Today started the madness in the 1980’s and from there due to technology and information overload via the World Wide Web, rankings are everywhere.

Are these publications right, or are they wrong? How can we prove if they are spot on, or way off base?

MaxPreps, the company that pays me, has elected to go to a BCS computer system in order to determine the top teams in the nation. Even a computer spits out rankings that are filled with flaws.

For example in Texas, national No. 9 Longview lost to No. 10 Allen earlier in the season, 21-7. Allen’s only loss was to No. 6 Euless Trinity, 24-14. So how could Longview be ranked ahead of Allen after a two touchdown loss?

Somebody has to put the data into the computer for the rankings to come out. Californian Ned Freeman has the daunting task of making the MaxPreps rankings make some sort of sense. It’s a job I would never want in a million years, so give the guy credit for trying.

However, Mr. Freeman happens to be from California. In his Top 25, five teams hail from California. Seven more are ranked between 26 and 50. Is California really that much better? Or is there at least some bias towards the non-biased system?

Staying in Texas, Euless Trinity is ranked No. 1 according to ESPN Rise and Trinity – the defending 5A-Division I state champions in Texas – are loaded with Division I talent on both sides of the football. Dontrayevous Robinson, committed to Nebraska, shares carries with sophomore Tevin Williams. Talk about depth.

USA Today has Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.) at No. 1. Another computer generated product called the Massey Ratings has Trinity at No. 1, with Byrnes checking in at No. 5. On Friday, Byrnes lost to Dorman (Roebuck, S.C.) 35-28. Dorman was ranked No. 13 according to the MaxPreps computer entering the game.

Which state is best?

Since nobody is right, I will weigh in. In my non-expert opinion, Texas is the ‘lone star’ when it comes to high school football.

In college football, fanatics are inundated with SEC overload. Most fans get their information from ESPN – who doesn’t? ESPN and the SEC have a long-term contract together, high rankings for SEC teams mean high ratings for ESPN, so obviously ESPN will make darn sure they talk about SEC football and hype it to death if given the chance to do so.

What bothers me is the speed argument out of the SEC. Are kids that play in the SEC really that much faster than everywhere else? There are fast players everywhere you look. You could find athletes in almost every state in the union.

In Texas, honestly, you probably have more speed, strength, and athleticism than in Florida and California only because Texas has the most high school football programs in the country. A prospect that runs a 4.4 in Texas runs a 4.4 in Florida.

States like Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are loaded with athletes in every corner of the state and in between. The southern speed argument is bunk.

High school games in Texas, at times, have 15,000 fans in the stadium. The commitment high school football in Texas is second to none.

The Texas state record for single-game attendance is 49,95, set in the 1977 Texas 4A State Championship game between Plano and Port Neches-Groves at Texas Stadium. That number would have ranked 41st in NCAA Division I attendance in 2006, ahead of both Baylor and TCU. It is over 10,000 more fans than Houston and North Texas averaged combined in 2006.

I realize 11 games in state history have had more than 36,000 fans in attendance, so comparing these numbers to NCAA average attendance can be misleading. I used those numbers simply to make a point.

Atmosphere is what separates high school football from college football and the National Football League, in my opinion. There is something special about the crisp autumn air under the lights with the sound of marching bands warming up two hours before kickoff. Have fun finding a better atmosphere outside of the Lone Star State.

Gridiron legends in Texas are treated like royalty. Names like Earl Campbell, Doak Walker, Billy Sims, Kenneth “The Sugar Land Express” Hall, Adrian Peterson, and Sammy Baugh, just to name a few.

Other states have had comparable names that have stepped foot on football fields across its state. Some of the all-time legends have hailed from Texas.

Everything is bigger in Texas, and that includes high school football. As they say, don’t mess with Texas.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hansen's National High School Football Top 10

One of the questions I am asked most as a freelance writer for is about the national and state rankings.

These rankings, which are done by a computer, have been under intense scrutiny. Last year while on a radio show in Tulsa, it was the main subject of discussion and I received heavy criticism for the rankings.

The rankings are what they are. MaxPreps has decided to stick to the computer. At last check, pretty much everybody gets to play for a state championship of some sort, so I'm not quite sure what the controversy is about.

Having learned a lot about some of the teams nationally while compiling the National Top 25 Scoreboard every week, I have decided it was time to make some rankings of my own.

Hansen's National High School Football Top 10

1. Phoebus (Hampton, Va.) - In one of the upper echelon states for high school football, Phoebus is taking care of business with ease. Defensively, it would be difficult to find somebody else nationally that has been as impressive. In eight games (8-0) the Phantoms have given up 26 points, including five shutouts. Two weeks back against rival Hampton, Phoebus handed Hampton coach Mike Smith his worst loss during his tenure with a 42-6 thumping. Offensively, QB Tahj Boyd and RB Shawne Alston have Phoebus averaging 49.5 points per game. And it doesn't appear Phoebus will let up any time soon, which is why I feel they are the best in the country at this time.

2. Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.) - If you haven't heard of junior RB Marcus Lattimore, now is the time to make a mental note. Lattimore - regarded as one of the top junior running backs in the country - already has set the school-record for career rushing yards. This season Lattimore has rushed for 1,289 yards and 14 touchdowns and has eclipsed the 200-yard barrier twice this season. QB Chas Dodd is a solid prep signal caller and has thrown for at least 3 TDs three times this season.

3. St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) - On Friday in what was slated to be a huge game against Deerfield Beach on national television, the Raiders rolled 65-10. After losing to Deerfield Beach by two points last season, revenge was sweet for St. Thomas Aquinas. QB Ryan Becker is not a major Division I prospect, but he's a heckuva high school quarterback. WR Duron Carter, son of former NFL receiver and St. Thomas Aquinas assistant Cris Carter, is a legit playmaker. LB Connor O'Neill and TE Gabrison Holmes are bona fide Division I prospects.

4. Lowndes (Valdosta, Ga.) - Lowndes has stormed out to a 7-0 start, including hard-fought victories over cross-town rival Valdosta and Northside (Warner Robins). Lowndes is another program posting unbelievable defensive numbers, allowing 36 points in seven games this season. The Vikings love to run the football, led by Greg Reid. Reid has rushed for 610 yards and 10 touchdowns this season and averages over 10 yards per carry. Reid is also the leading receiver for the Vikings.

5. Armwood (Seffner, Fla.) – The Hawks have been salty on defense, giving up just 18 points in seven victories including four shutouts. QB Mywan Jackson does a solid job in running the Armwood offense and is considered a Division I prospect as a safety. Jackson has thrown for 15 touchdowns and has added 591 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns to lead the Hawks.

6. Euless Trinity (Euless, Texas) – Trinity hasn’t always been dominating this season, but Trinity wins when it counts. The Trojans are led by QB Denarius McGhee. RB Dontrayevous Robinson was slated to be the go-to runner for the Trojans, but sophomore Tevin Williams has emerged as the team-leader in rushing. Earnest Norman, Prinz Kande, and Eryon Bennett are all DI talents and lead the defense.

7. Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.) – The Jackrabbits have played a brutal schedule this season, including a trip to Miami Northwestern to claim a 29-7 win. RB Melvin Richardson (644 rushing yards, 7 TDs) and Daveon Barner (572 rushing yards, 5 TDs) lead the offense. George Daily-Lyles leads the team in tackles while Eli Edwards leads the Jackrabbits in sacks.

8. Skyline (Sammamish, Wash.) – Junior QB Jake Heaps already holds dozens of offers and is regarded as one of the best prospects in the Class of 2010. Heaps has 974 passing yards and 14 TDs this season, with WR Gino Simone (committed to Washington State) his top target with 359 yards and 7 TDs. The Spartans have allowed just eight points in seven games and have recorded five shutouts. As a team, Skyline has 10 interceptions this season.

9. Oscar Smith (Chesapeake, Va.) – Oscar Smith has stormed to an 8-0 mark and outscored its opponents 363-41, to include four shutouts on defense. QB Philip Sims, RB Perry Jones, and WR Tim Smith are the leaders on offense for the Tigers. Last week in a 40-6 win over Nansemond River, Jones had four rushing TDs in the first half while Sims and Brown hooked up for TD passes of 53 and 73 yards as the Tigers took a 40-0 halftime lead.

10. Lake Travis (Austin, Texas) – Lake Travis gunslinger and Texas verbal Garrett Gilbert has been as good as possible for the Cavaliers. Gilbert has completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,466 yards and 30 TDs compared to just one interception. Cade McCrary has 903 receiving yards and 12 TDs. The Cavaliers don’t run it often, but Chris Aydam and Andy Erikson have combined for over 600 yards and 7 TDs. Quinton Crow has 95 tackles to lead the defense.

Give St. Xavier (Cincinnati, Ohio) Credit

St. Xavier has been one of the top programs in Ohio over the years. You have to give them credit for attempting to become a national power by scheduling any body, any where, at any time.

St. Xavier is 4-4 this year, but its losses have come to Colerain (Cincinnati), Trinity (Louisville, Ky.), Elder (Cincinnati), La Salle (Cincinnati), and St. Ignatius (Cleveland). The Bombers have a victory over Prattville (Ala.), Indianapolis Cathedral, and Don Bosco Prep (N.J.).