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Old 09-10-2010, 06:34 AM  
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Texas vs. Florida: The great football debate rages

Texas vs. Florida: The great football debate rages
Weekend showcase likely to increase debate over which powerhouse state produces more high school football talent

DeSoto, Texas — The artificial turf field is perfectly groomed and ready for play.

Despite the steady rain, the field and stadium are abuzz with activity.

That's typical as teams and athletes practice around DeSoto High's imposing 15,000-seat football stadium.

But everyone in the community knows it's nothing compared to what happens Friday nights in the fall.

"During football season, preseason and spring, it means everything," DeSoto coach Claude Mathis said. "They love their football in the state of Texas. They love their Friday nights. Fans are always going crazy in the small towns and communities. It's unbelievable."

This weekend, DeSoto will host the first Florida vs. Texas Football Showcase.

The event, which begins Friday, may not ultimately define which of the two powerhouse states plays a better brand of high school football, but it will undoubtedly add fuel to an already intense, decades-long debate.

So which state has the edge?

That depends on who you ask, and yes, homegrown loyalty will likely come into play.

"Of course, I'm a little biased," laughed Glades Central coach Jessie Hester, whose Raiders opened the season with a 6-0 victory over Dallas Skyline and who will now take on Denison High in the Florida vs. Texas Football Showcase. "Being from Florida, there's no question about it. We have some better athletes. The overall quality of play in Florida is something to behold."

Adds former St. Thomas Aquinas and University of Miami receiver Michael Irvin, " Deion [Sanders] said it best. Both of them are great at pushing out athletes. That's what makes these matchups so intriguing, but Florida has better players and Texas has better facilities. Florida gets the edge, but barely."

The Dallas Cowboys Hall of Famer isn't exaggerating.

Across Texas, where approximately 165,000 high school students compete in football, it's not uncommon to see high school stadiums that would rival those found at small college programs.

Allen High, located in a suburb of Dallas, will soon begin construction on a new 18,000-seat stadium that will cost nearly $60 million. Southlake Carroll and many of the major Class 5A and 4A programs have indoor practice facilities.

Most head coaches at large public schools aren't required to teach and instead, have administrative roles. Their staffs often include multiple, paid assistants.

The pressure to win is intense and so is the compensation.

According to a 2006 story in the Austin American Statesman, salaries for head coaches in Texas range from $42,000 up to $106,000.

Those who cover high school sports in Texas say the amount of money spent on football is occasionally debated, but more often than not, communities are proud of the facilities built for their football teams.

"I think the majority kind of look at it and see how much money these teams are bringing in from their gate fees and their special games," Dallas Morning News high school sports columnist Matt Wixon said. "They're making money and they can use it to support other athletic teams."

Little of that exists in Florida, where 38,291 students compete in football and many school districts face budget cuts that often impact sports programs.

In Broward County, for instance, head coaches are paid a stipend of $3,038 per school year. Miramar coach Damon Cogdell, whose Patriots won the Class 6A state title last season and will open Saturday against DeSoto, has just three paid assistant coaches.

The rest of his coaches are volunteers.

Many schools in Miami-Dade don't have on-campus stadiums and old, tattered uniforms can be common sights across South Florida.

"We have great football down here and we have super coaches, but the pay scale is a little funny," Cogdell said. "But you know what you're getting into here. If you're coaching for the money, this isn't the place to be. If you want to help kids, this is your place."

Yet, Florida's athletes are some of the most highly-recruited prospects in the nation and filling their rosters with Floridians have helped make Florida, Florida State and Miami three of the nation's elite college football programs.

"We make sure we take care of home and doing all the things at home," Miami coach Randy Shannon said when asked about recruiting Florida and Texas. "When we go out of state, we just try to find the best player that's better than what we have in the state."

It's a strategy instate rivals Urban Meyer and Jimbo Fisher likely understand.

The most current Rivals 100, which rates the nation's top high school football players, currently includes 14 players from Texas. Florida has 20 players on the list—three of which are in the top 10.

Adding more intrigue to the debate is the fact that so far this season, Florida has fared well in its matchups against Texas teams.

First, came Glades Central's victory last week and on Monday, St. Thomas Aquinas defeated Skyline 31-3.

Afterwards, St. Thomas quarterback Jacob Rudock said the win had been a victory for the entire state, but St. Thomas coach George Smith had plenty of praise for the programs in Texas.

"We've got two states that pride themselves on high school football. If you went through both states and saw how many Division I guys they produce, it'd be quite a bit. There's definitely good football here."

Others agree.

Permian High coach Gary Gaines, whose team was immortalized in the book and movie Friday Night Lights about the importance of football in West Texas said it's virtually impossible to say which state produces better football players.

"Both states have great talent," Gaines said. "I don't think there's any question about that. We're proud of our football here in Texas and I'm sure they feel the same way in Florida."

Staff writer Steve Gorten contributed to this report.
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Old 09-10-2010, 07:40 AM   #2
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