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Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Updated: September 12, 1:32 PM ET
Talent, coaching, weather boost Florida

By Chris Lawlor

In the second head-to-head matchup of the Great State Debate, SportsNation came out in droves to decide which state has produced the best high school football: No. 2 seed Florida or No. 7 seed Louisiana. Although not quite the rout we saw in last week's Texas-Virginia showdown (the Lone Star State took home 85 percent of the vote), Florida had no problem dispatching the boys from the Bayou, with 65.8 percent of the vote.

Many people clearly believe Florida is the best high school football state. No question the favorable weather plays a role, as does the success of in-state college powers Florida State, Florida and Miami, which regularly mine the state for prospects.

Keith Rivers
Lake Mary High School star Keith Rivers went on to excel at USC and for the Bengals.

Consider the following criteria and picture becomes clearer:

Tradition: Annually some of the best teams in the national rankings reside in the Sunshine State. To wit, Miami schools Northwestern and Booker T. Washington finished first and fourth, respectively, in the ESPN rankings in 2007.

NFL rosters are chock full of Floridians, from veteran kicker John Carney of the New York Giants (he graduated in 1982 from Cardinal Newman High in West Palm Beach) to rookie linebacker and first-round pick Keith Rivers of the Cincinnati Bengals (Lake Mary High).

Players: The state is known as fertile turf along the recruiting trail. Using the ESPNU 150 player rankings for the Class of 2009, Florida contributes an eye-popping 24 players -- that's 16 percent of the total -- compared to Texas (16) and California (15).

Five players who played their high school ball in Florida -- Ted Hendricks, Hialeah; Michael Irvin, St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale); Larry Little, Booker T. Washington (Miami); Deacon Jones, Hungerford (Orlando); and Jack Youngblood, Jefferson County (Monticello) -- have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Don't forget Emmitt Smith and Ray Lewis, who are on the way to Canton, Ohio.

Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow are Heisman Trophy winners. Tebow is a junior quarterbacking the Florida Gators in the Southeastern Conference, the nation's toughest loop.

Recruiting: Florida is a college coach's paradise. Each spring, the nation flocks to the spring practices looking to pluck the ripest recruit, like the citrus growers harvesting the juiciest oranges and grapefruits.

Coaching: All that talent needs shaping and fine tuning. Florida's network of top coaches stretches from the Panhandle to the Florida Keys.

When the Florida High School Athletic Association named its all-century coaching staff in 2007, six of the 12 were still active. That includes Bill Castle of Lakeland, who was tabbed the best ever. Recently, Castle (310-74 overall record with six state titles) entered his 33rd year.

Four others have won at least 250 games, with the other three having won more than 300. The state leader is Corky Rogers of Bolles School (Jacksonville) with 362.

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in
football, baseball and boys and girls basketball.

Highlights from the Great State Debate

"Louisiana has a great talent pool for its own and neighboring state's universities. Florida is the Talent Reservoir for all of College Football."
-- Bjcastine

"Maybe nothing compares to the scene of Texas football, but doesnt mean they have the best talent. With the state of Texas being so big, it has a lot of towns spread out all over the place. Each town has one football team that the whole town can root for. Thats why they games always has so many people. A city in Florida can have as many as 10-15 teams wich spreads the population. Ask all college coaches and recruiters where they go to find the most talent and most of them will say Florida. I believe Florida's best team went over and beat up on Texas' best team last year. This has been an on going argument for years that will never be resolved if it just comes down to words. I think that they should create a Florida-Texas football game and let a all-star team from Texas play against an All-star team from Florida. Like they do for Florida-Georgia and Florida-Texas."
-- Fbplyer40

"It has to be Louisiana. The primary leader of any team is the QB. We already have seven superbowls won by Louisiana QB's. Terry Bradshaw, Doug Williams, Peyton and Eli. And dont forget about Jake Delhomme, who came a little short against the pats a few years ago. Name any state that can top that. Throw in the running backs Of Faulk(Marshall and Kevin), Dunn, Addai, Three national championships, Numerous nfl hall of famers, Two heisman winners, and only 4 million people who live and die by highschool football, then you have the best state for football."
-- coachj444

"I dont know why this is even a dabate. Miami got the record for most players drafted in the 1st round of a single draft. We fast and we hit hard down here. dont you know when it comes to recruiting all the Florida schools recruit locally and then to fill the rosters up they cherry pick everywhere else. everyone knows if all the players coming out of Florida went to schools in Florida every here the championships would of stayed down here. I will give Louisiana their respect. but im sorry there is no college football without the state of Florida. And even in the offseason in the NFL where do you think the big names come to train at. FLA "
-- 21DaDeCoUnTy305