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High School Spotlight

September 24, 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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