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High School Spotlight

September 2008

 

Spotlight: Valdosta Wildcats

Hometown: Valdosta, GA

Group: GA Class AAAAA

 

 

By Ryan Rohde

 

The numbers are staggering: a national record 838 wins (and counting), an 80% overall winning percentage, 23 state championships and six national titles.

 

This is Valdosta Wildcat football.

 

The backbone of the success on the field is two-fold. It starts with great tradition but also includes elite coaches who understand that tradition. Wright Bazemore began coaching at Valdosta in 1942, winning 14 state titles in three decades at the helm, all while establishing the Wildcat tradition that continues today.

 

Bazemore stepped down in 1971, but his successor was fired for not winning a region championship after just two seasons. That’s one example of the pressure that comes with being the head coach of the winningest team in high school football history. Bazmore then hand picked Nick Hyder to be the next head coach. Hyder died tragically in 1996, but not before cementing himself in Wildcat history by winning seven state titles.

 

And with great coaches comes great players. The people of Valdosta have passed the tradition of playing for the black and gold from generation to generation, which is a major reason for the team’s sustained success. The citizens fully invest themselves in high school football. The diners and coffee shops are filled with former players who have sons or grandsons on the team. The talk is all Valdosta football, present, past and future.

 

The southern Georgia city of 45,000 is dubbed “Winnersville” in the world of high school football, and more recently crowned as “TitleTown USA” by ESPN. With a history and tradition like Valdosta, and a penchant for spending money, it is hard not to garner comparisons on a grand scale.

 

Said former head coach Rick Darlington in an article by Steve Weiberg of USA Today, “I've heard us called the Yankees of high school football.”

 

When taking one look at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium on the campus of Valdosta High, it’s easy to see why.

 

This is not your ordinary high school football stadium. For instance, the new $7.5 million Sprinturf field, the reserved armchair seats for season ticket holders and the new press box are all lit by the same high caliber lights used at Daytona National Speedway.

 

Meanwhile, located in the southeast corner of the stadium is the “Wildcat Walk of Pride.” The brick walkway is lined with the names of Wildcat alumni and fans and leads to the “[Wildcat Museum|http://www.valdostafootball.com/facilities/museum/].”

 

The museum embodies all that is Valdosta football. The walls are lined with memorabilia from seasons past, in addition to countless championship trophies reminding fans what it means to be a Wildcat.

 

And that pride is shown on Friday nights. Bazemore-Hyder Stadium draws regularly 7,500 fans for each game, which is almost twice the amount as two-time Division II national champion Valdosta State. The seats are packed with individuals of all walks -- from infants to students and to lifelong season ticket holders.

 

The fans and school also understand that running a powerhouse program does not come without a price. The annual budget for the program is upwards of $300,000 and the 1,500 member booster club chips in an additional 80-90 grand.

 

When asked in a recent Sports Illustrated article about coming to Valdosta from his former job at Washington County, current head coach Rick Tomberlin said, “…This is a bigger stage. It's like being at the Fox Theater in Atlanta and then going to Carnegie Hall.”

 

With a resume like Valdosta’s, most would agree that those comparisons are spot on.

 

Next up: Friday, September 26 vs. Warner Robins (State PR: 67.00, Rank: 32).

 

 

 

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Team Spotlight: Everett Crimson Tide

Location: Everett, Massachusetts

Group: Massachusetts Eastern Mass

 

 

By Andre Coles

 

Michael Matarazzo, web administrator for the Everett High football team, understands exactly what high school football means to the community of Everett, Massachusetts. It’s bigger than touchdowns and tackles and Matarazzo displays the message loud and clear and for everyone to see on the team’s homepage.

 

“The history of Everett High School’s Crimson Tide Football Team is the story of more than just football. It is the story of a working-class community and its pride in the achievements of its youth. It is the story of the sons and grandsons of immigrants who rose to levels of prominence in the world of high school football and in life.”

 

On the field, those achievements have been felt for multiple generations as the Everett football program has attained an elite status in the state of Massachusetts – and around the nation – for more than a century. It’s easy to see why the Everett community takes such great pride in its football team.

 

Not only has the Crimson Tide won a multitude of Suburban League titles and Greater Boston league Championships, but the historic program has produced seven Eastern Massachusetts Super Bowl winners in the past eleven seasons, including the last two.

 

Adding to the history of Everett is the great talent the program has produced from working class roots. Perhaps most familiar is the late Dan Ross, an eight-year veteran of the National Football League, who is best known for his record setting performance in Super Bowl XVI with the Cincinnati Bengals. The former tight end set a record with 11 receptions for 104 yards and two touchdowns, which was the most for a tight end in Super Bowl history.

 

Ross and fellow Everett alum Swede Oberlander are members of the College Football Hall of Fame.

 

The program has also produced arguably one of the best high school teams in history.  The 1914 squad not only finished the season undefeated at 13-0, but no opponent found a way to score on the team either. The state and National Champions outscored opponents 600-0.

 

Meanwhile, Everett’s history and success strongly correlates with its togetherness as a community. In a city with 36,000 people Everett boasts two Pop Warner football programs. These youth programs have been integral in building the foundation for the Everett High teams of today. 

 

The Crimson Tide won three straight Super Bowls from ‘01-‘03, with the members of these teams all playing together on the Pop Warner Squads.

 

The success of Everett’s past is still prevalent today. The ’08 version of the Crimson Tide is already off to a 3-0 start with its recent 48-26 win over Dracut (State PR: 85.00). All the while, the Tide is currently the top rated school in the SportsPower Massachusetts rankings with a mark of 95.00. 

 

Indeed, for over 100 years, Everett has produced winners on and off the football field. If the past is any indication, they will likely do so for another century.

 

Now, that’s certainly something for a community to get behind.

 

Next Up: Friday, September 26 vs. St. John's Prep (State PR: 91.00, Rank: 11).

 

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Spotlight on: Centennial Coyotes

Hometown: Peoria, Arizona

Group: 5A Division II

 

 

By Jimmy Oliver

 

Each season at Centennial may end differently than the one before, but no matter what, the expectations remain the same.  When the players don those navy blue helmets with the interlocking “CC” symbols along with the navy blue uniforms, they immediately understand the prospect of winning a state championship is inherent upon them.

 

Those expectations were instilled earlier this decade as the program grew in skill and prominence.  The year 2002 marked the beginning of a new era in Centennial Football as a new wave of talent fueled the team’s first playoff berth since ’95.

 

After two more years of playoff success, the Coyotes lost to North Canyon in the Arizona 5A-II state final in ’05.  The following year, Centennial broke through and triumphed over Tucson Sunnyside to take home its first title.  And then last year, the Coyotes won it all again thanks to a hard fought victory over Westview.

 

In ’08, Centennial has its eyes on landing a berth into the state title game for the fourth straight time.

 

From that first season in ’92, when the squad put up a record of just 2-8, Centennial has been building the foundation for perennial championship teams in the Grand Canyon state.

 

So far, the Coyotes are once again proving themselves a contender with a 3-0 record thanks to big wins over Desert Ridge, Hamilton (one of Centennial’s tougher opponents on the schedule) and Rincon.  Next up for Centennial is North. Currently, the Coyotes are ranked 1st in the state of Arizona in the latest Mega Division ratings.

 

In the coming weeks, the offense will look to stay hot.  North has put up 61 points in three games but has also let up 78.  Therefore, junior quarterback Daine McFarland and running back John Hughes will have ample opportunity to continue the pace they have set so far.  Along with those playmakers, the Coyotes sport a young offensive line that appears to be already starting to come together.

 

Head coach Richard Taylor is starting to see that happen.

 

“I cam home after a practice during the Hamilton week and told my wife (who is a music teacher at Centennial) that we were not practicing well and how concerned I was.  She told me ‘bad practice…good performance’”

 

Meanwhile, Centennial beat Hamilton that week 35-16.  Bravo Mrs. Taylor.

 

Perhaps Taylor’s uneasiness is starting to move in the other direction because of the belief he has in his kids.

 

“This group is very bright and are hard workers,” Taylor said.  “They know what they want and what they need to do.”

 

And it’s likely that the athletes know the exact task at hand because of the expectations that have been instilled.  From the starting quarterback to the third string linebacker, each member of the squad shares the common goal of winning a state title.  And because of that tradition, an established coaching staff and a program producing primal talent in the state, Centennial breeds success ever year.

 

Said Taylor, “We want to excel at all phases of the game.”

 

So far, as is the norm around Peoria now, the Coyotes are doing just that.

 

Next up: Friday, September 26 at North (State PR: 52.00, Rank: 34).

 

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Spotlight on: Jenks Trojans

Hometown: Jenks, Oklahoma

Group: OK Class 6A

 

 

By Omar Muhammad

 

The Jenks Trojans define success on the gridiron in Oklahoma. The Tulsa-area squad has dominated the Class 6A competition for decades and has accumulated a dozen state titles since 1976. 

 

But while the Trojans are renowned for their victories and state championships, they may be better known for their bitter rivalry game each year with the Union Redskins dubbed the “Backyard Bowl Game.” 

 

The Jenks-Union rivalry goes back to 1949 thanks to both schools being only 10 miles apart. Says Barry Lewis, prep sports writer at the Tulsa World, one has to factor in the friends, family and teachers that have embraced the feud as well. 

 

Meanwhile, both teams are in the same conference in every sport except for football. And while in football they may not be in the same district, the two rivals are still in the same classification. 

 

Seeing that these two 6A football teams have combined for the last 12 state titles in Oklahoma also fuels the rivalry. And it probably helps that the competition has featured many incredible finishes, including a nail-biter on September 12 when Jenks rallied from 14 points down in the 4th quarter to send the game into overtime, only before Union clinched it, 24-17, in the extra session.

 

In that contest, Union held a 17-3 lead heading to the fourth quarter before a quick pair of touchdown passes from Beau Marsaln to Tramaine Thompson helped the Trojans tie the score and send the game to overtime.

 

In the extra period, Union received the ball first and went to tailback Jeremy Smith, who scored on a one-yard run to give the Redskins a 24-17 lead. Then, Jenks moved the ball inside the five-yard line during its overtime possession, but on a fourth and goal, Marsaln was sacked to end the game.

 

While the Trojans certainly wanted the victory for bragging rights and pride, perhaps the team shouldn’t look into the loss too much. Historically, according to Lewis, the loser of the regular season rivalry game in four of the last five years has actually gone on to win the state title. 

 

All the while, the Backyard Bowl game spreads through the locals with their spirit and traditions. 

 

The contest is easily the most highly anticipated by Tulsa-area fans all season long. One perfect example of that is the 20,000 plus supporters that annually attend the contest. The game has the atmosphere of a college bowl game, complete with a trophy, and due to its popularity, is now played at Chapman Stadium on the campus of the University of Tulsa.

 

Being the two best teams in Oklahoma, and being the biggest rivalry in the state, these teams have compiled some great stories for the history books.

 

In both 2000 and 2005, Union scored last-minute touchdowns to take the lead, only to have Jenks score in the last seconds on a long passes to win the game.

 

Then in ‘07, Jenks scored with 90 seconds left to take the lead, only to see Union score with 17 seconds remaining and then go on to win in overtime

 

But perhaps the biggest high scoring affair came in ‘97, when Union beat Jenks 55-45 in a back and forth shootout. 

 

It’s easy to see why the Jenks football program has opened up the eyes of many national and local fans. From the numerous accolades, to the traditions passed down and to the one of a kind rivalry with Union that has produced incredible finishes and achievements, the Trojans also define what high school football is all about.

 

Next up: Friday, September 26 at Claremore (State PR: 82.00, Rank: 7).

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Midwest Region

 

Spotlight on: Trinity

Hometown: Euless, Texas

Group: Texas 5A

 

By Omar Muhammad

 

The Trinity High football program has risen to the national spotlight thanks to a winning tradition and a little help from the team’s intimidating dance called the Haka.

 

Long before the ceremonial war dance started at Trinity, football commenced in Euless in 1976 under head coach John Reddell and the team quickly gained respect across the state. Flash-forward through nine district titles and 13 playoff appearances, Reddell is now among the winningest coaches in Texas high school football history after piling up a record of 260-131-12 and 17 coach of the year honors by the Texas Football Coaches Association.

 

The head coach and Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District Hall of Fame inductee brought a winner’s attitude to Trinity and it has stuck due to a knowledgable coaching staff and a steady stream of athletic, dynamic and coachable football players. Since the program was initiated 31 years ago, Trinity has produced five players to the National Football League – most recently Ryan McBean, who was drafted in 2007 by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

Head coach Steve Lineweaver, who came aboard in 2000, heads today’s Trojans. Lineweaver has kept the Trojans on the winning course by chalking up 89 wins while losing just 16 in his eight-year career.

 

Meanwhile, the Trojans have become one of the most recognizable teams around the nation, but it isn’t necessarily because of their success.

 

In their championship year of ’05, the team initiated a war dance from New Zealand called the Haka. Trinity first performed the dance three years after one of the team’s Tongan players saw a video on the Internet of New Zealand's All Blacks rugby team doing the war dance before one of their games.

 

The ritual is more than 200 years old and originated with New Zealand's Maori people. Since then, it has been adopted by a number of Polynesian cultures, including Tonga.

 

Today, the Haka is performed by the Trojans before each game and has even fueled nationwide coverage by YouTube, Gatorade, and the CBS Evening News.

 

While the Haka can be intimidating for opposing teams before a contest, it’s quite clear that with top-notch coaching and a steady stream of athletic talent coming into the program, Trinity will likely stay high in the Texas and national rankings for years to come.

 

So far this season, the Trojans are ranked #1 by FootballPower in its latest Mega Division Top Ten Football Poll and will look to stay there through season’s end.

 

Next up: Thursday, September 18 at Allen (State PR: 96.00, Rank: 6).

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Team Spotlight: Lowndes (Ga.)

Posted by adam_sp Sep 17, 2008

Southern Region

 

 

Spotlight on:         Lowndes

Hometown:           Valdosta, Georgia

Group:                 GA Class AAAAA

 

By Adam C. Warner

 

After a sound 22-7 victory over Georgia power Peachtree Ridge (State PR: 41.00, Rank: 43) on September 5, the Lowndes Vikings passed their first major test of the season and appear poised to capture their fourth state championship in five years in 2008.

 

The Vikings have come a long way since their first year as a program in 1966 when the squad finished 1-8-1 (Lowndes would go 26-66-3 during its first 10 seasons).

 

But in 1976, head coach Joe Wilson ushered in a new era in Vikings football and guided the team to a 95-49 overall mark in his 13 years at the helm – all while steering the team to two regional titles and one state championship.

 

And ever since, the Vikings (currently ranked No. 2 in our latest Mega Division Top Ten Poll) have earned the distinction by media and coaches alike as a state and national juggernaut.

 

Most recently, with head coach Randy McPherson at the reigns, the Vikings have never enjoyed more success. The squad is 68-12 over the last six plus seasons with four regional titles and three state

championships. Meanwhile, with an assembly line of talent coming through – including Randall Godfrey, Vincent Burns and Jay Ratliff in recent seasons -- Lowndes hasn’t even endured a losing campaign since 1994.

 

Lately, the team has garnered national attention when ESPN named Lowndes’ hometown of Valdosta, Georgia as TitleTown USA (beating out Boston, New York and Columbus in the process). During the spring, fans across the nation nominated towns and cities across the country based on their championship pedigree and a panel reviewed the nominees, culminating in a fan vote to determine the winner.

 

Meanwhile this season, Lowndes continues to make headlines as ESPNRise’s No. 2 team in the nation and PrepNation’s No. 4 squad. Already at 3-0 this year after impressive wins with playmakers Greg

Reid and Gerald Demps leading the way, one can be sure that the Vikings will make another run at a state title – all while turning heads along the way.

 

Next up: Friday, September 19 vs. Colquitt County (State PR: 90.00, Ranking: 16).

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Team Spotlight: Deshler (Ala.)

Posted by adam_sp Sep 17, 2008

Midwest Region

 

 

Spotlight on:    Deshler

Hometown:     Tuscumbia, Alabama

Group:              4 A Region 8

 

By Jimmy Oliver

 

Visions of a championship are 20/20 for the Deshler Tigers in 2008.

 

The Alabama Class 4A squad is already off to a 2-1 start following a convincing victory over region foe Lawrence County this past Friday night (Sept. 12). The 56-7 pouncing proved that nothing has changed for the #1 ranked team in the preseason according to the Alabama Sports Writers Association.

 

Despite an early season loss to 5A power Russellville (State PR: 93.00, Rank: 7), 26-14, the Tigers (State PR: 64.00, Rank: 25) are back on track towards another run at the Super Six – Alabama’s state championship for each six classes in the state. And this is nothing new for a program that has become accustomed to being on top.

 

“Everybody says, ‘well, the bull’s eye is on your back’, but it’s on our backs every year,” said head coach John Mothershed in a recent interview with the Times Daily. Mothershed is the 14th coach in program history.

 

And it’s easy to see why this is one marked team. Since the squad’s inaugural season in 1923, Deshler has amassed an astounding record of 569-304-33, good for fourth all-time in Alabama history. Meanwhile, the Tigers have amassed 21 regional titles and three state championships (1990, 1998, 1999) along the way while producing 64 winning seasons. In his 14 years at Deshler, Coach Mothershed has compiled a record of 142-36.

 

Ever since that first season 85 years ago, Deshler has repeatedly proved that when its defense is on track, the team simply wins. That

first group of Tigers had an amazing seven shutouts in their nine victories. Flash forward to ’07 and Deshler held opponents to 14 points or less five times and seven points or fewer a total of four occasions. It’s pretty clear that not much has changed since 1923. Defense wins for Deshler.

 

Now, the Tigers are looking to avenge their loss in the 2007 title game to Central Tuscaloosa by a score of 34-7. But with a lethal offense featuring running back J. Gardner and quarterback Chase Blackburn and a potent defense that gets after the quarterback and regularly forces turnovers, the Tigers may very well be back in the pinnacle contest.

 

But for the time being, Deshler has its eyes cast for its next opponent in Region 8 foe Rogers (2-1 overall) on Friday.

 

Next up: Friday, September 19 vs. Rogers (State PR: 62.00, Rank: 29).

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Team Spotlight: Jeannette

Posted by adam_sp Sep 17, 2008

Northeast Region

 

 

Spotlight on:         Jeannette

Hometown:           Jeannette, Pennsylvania

Group:                    PA Class AA

 

By Andre Coles

 

Any doubts concerning a fall from grace by Jeannette this year were fully erased this past weekend as the Jayhawks (State PR: 91.00, Rank: 4) continued their dominance with a convincing 45-0 win against South Allegheny (State PR: 55.00, Rank: 72). The Jayhawks have cruised through the first third of their 2008 slate, posting an impressive 129 points on the scoreboard.

 

All the while, the Pennsylvania power has seen a new star emerge from the pack in Ohio State commit Jordan Hall. With the speedster lining up in the backfield and making opponents miss left and right, the Jayhawks look to be well on their way to their third straight WPIAL AA championship game.

 

Many prognosticators and football fans alike falsely accused the ‘07 Jayhawks of being a one-man team with standout Terrelle Pryor making national headlines and racking up state records left and right. Indeed, the current Buckeye was the nation’s top recruit last season and is the only player in PIAA history to pass and run for over 4,000 yards in a career.

 

But despite the void left in his absence this year, the Jayhawks have remained on top in Pennsylvania AA football thanks to a well-rounded team filled with playmakers and a coaching staff that plays to players’ strengths.

 

The Jayhawks, led by third year head coach Ray Reitz, are 57-3 since the ‘03 season, and are an astounding 38-4 since ‘05 when Reitz took over the program. Reitz also boasts an impressive .904 winning percentage and is one of only eight coaches in the state to have an undefeated season.

 

And while the ‘07 Jayhawks set a state record with 860 points scored, it has been evident that this year’s squad has had no problems putting points on the board despite a shift in focus as team.

 

Said Reitz in a recent interview with EasternPAFootball.com, “We returned most of our offensive line from last year, and our defense might be quicker than last year’s group.”

 

Reitz couldn’t be more on target. The Jayhawk defense has yet to even surrender a touchdown this season in three blowout victories.

 

It has become increasingly clear that Jeannette may be currently one of the best small school teams in the nation, let alone Pennsylvania. But it’s also evident that this is one program that is built on more than its star players -- as evidenced by the team’s overall success this decade.

 

The ‘08 squad is poised to make this year just as memorable as the last few in Jeannette. Said Reitz to EasternPAFootball.com, “We have the potential to be a very good team.”

 

If the first three games are any indication, Reitz has hit the nail right on the head.

 

Next Up: Friday, September 19 @ Waynesburg Central(State PR: 27.00, Rank 114)

 

Talk about dedicated fans. Check out how Jayhawks fans follow and support their hometown squad! See Jeannette’s fans and followers.

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FootballPower Regional Team Spotlights

 

Every Wednesday, FootballPower will highlight one team from each region in the country and provide insight into the school’s background, history, current season and other interesting stories regarding the

program. Stay tuned each week and follow along with us. Who knows – your team may be selected at any given time!

 

Southeast Region 

 

 

 

Spotlight On:     St. Thomas Aquinas

Hometown:           Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Group:                     Florida Class 5A

 

By Ryan Rohde and Matt Forman

 

He owns 31 years of experience at the same school, more than 300 wins as head coach, four championships and one perfect season.

 

If one guessed the previous resume as belonging to Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden, they would be wrong.

 

Rather, St. Thomas Aquinas head coach George Smith has compiled a 321-65 record while leading the Raiders to 23 district titles, 18 region championships and posting nine

undefeated regular seasons. Not to mention being named to the Florida High School Athletic Association All-Century coaching staff.

 

What may be even more impressive than his bio is Smith’s ability to produce top-flight talent. Throughout his tenure at St. Thomas Aquinas, the 60-year old has produced 36 NFL players, including Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, and over 20 current Div. I players.

 

This years’ team is no different. There are least 15 Div. I prospects on the current roster. The ‘08 Raiders (ranked #3 in our Mega Top Ten Poll) are led by Ohio State-bound wideout Duron Carter, son of NFL Hall of Fame wideout Cris Carter, who coincidently signed on to be a wide receivers coach at Aquinas.

 

"He makes defenders miss in the open field and gets the important yards after the catch,” Smith said to Jim Halley of USA Today on his senior receiver. “He has a knack for making the big play and moving the chains."

 

Carter has developed a solid report with his quarterback Ryan Decker, a dual-threat playmaker. The 6-foot 175-pound signal-caller is considering offers from Wake Forest, NC State, Vanderbilt and South Florida. The other two pass catchers for Aquinas are Dwayne Difton and tight end Gabe Holmes.

 

Although the Aquinas passing attack scorched defenses for nearly 2,000 yards last season, it also features a stout, dual-headed rushing attack. The Raiders backfield is spearheaded by two junior running backs, Giovanni Bernard and James White.

 

Surprisingly, Aquinas grew increasingly familiar with being number two. The Raiders lost five straight championship games since 2000 before winning the elusive crown last season. With a stockpile of talent,

Aquinas becomes the hunted instead of the hunter. And so come the pre-season rankings and accolades, even if Aquinas returns only six starters from last year’s squad.

 

"This is our most inexperienced team we've had in four years,” Smith said to Halley earlier this month. “I can't understand how we can be rated as high as we are. It's ridiculous. You return two starters on offense and four or five on defense. I don't know. That's the way it is."

 

Despite the new influx of talent, a program like Aquinas doesn’t rebuild, it reloads. The Raiders, 2-0, have started the 2008 campaign with wins over Cincinnati Elder (OH), 35-24, and Cardinal Gibbons (NC),

49-3.

 

And while Bowden, 78, has named his predecessor in Jimbo Fisher, Smith has no intentions of stepping aside. Smith is just 19 wins away from topping Florida's all-time wins record at 340.

 

Next up: Thursday, September 18 vs. Everglades (State PR: 75.00, Rank: 24).

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