Keystone State produces legends

Originally Published: August 25, 2008
ESPNRISE.com

Which state annually produces the best high school football? ESPN Rise's editors have pared the field down to eight states. It's up to you to decide which is the last state standing.

 

Great State Debate

The Great State Debate poses a simple question: What state has the best high school football? We've edited the field down to eight. Check out our picks:

No. 1 seed Texas
No. 2 seed Florida
No. 3 seed California
No. 4 seed Ohio
No. 5 seed Pennsylvania
No. 6 seed Georgia
No. 7 seed Louisiana
No. 8 seed Virginia

Agree? Disagree? Join the debate.

No. 5 seed Pennsylvania

Population: 12.4 million

Number of high schools playing football: 750

Pro Football Hall of Famers: 20 players, including QB Joe Montana, QB Johnny Unitas, WR Lenny Moore, QB Joe Namath, LB Chuck Bednarik, TE Mike Ditka, QB Dan Marino.

Heisman Trophy winners: Five, most recent Tony Dorsett, John Cappelletti and Leon Hart. (Editor's note: Eddie George doesn't count, even though he went to a Pennsylvania high school for three years, because he didn't graduate in the state.)

Top Current NFL Alums: WR Marvin Harrison, RB Larry Johnson, DB Bob Sanders, DL Jason Taylor.

Great schools: Pittsburgh Central Catholic (defending state Class AAAA champion is alma mater of Dan Marino and Marc Bulger); Berwick (Bulldogs have won six state Class AAA titles since 1988); Mount Carmel (Tornadoes are state's most decorated all-time program); Aliquippa (Alma mater of Mike Ditka, featured in movie "All The Right Moves"); Central Bucks West of Doylestown (Eastern Pennsylvania team has 18 unbeaten regular seasons since 1970).

Points of greatness:
•The Keystone State has tradition in its corner in any debate of great football states. Look no further than the quarterback position for reasons why. What other state has produced as many "name" signal callers as Pennsylvania in general and Western Pennsylvania in particular? The Pittsburgh area alone has produced Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Dan Marino, Johnny Unitas, Jim Kelly, George Blanda and Johnny Lujack.

• On the other side of the ball, Pennsylvania is deep in linebacker talent. In fact, Penn State has been labeled "Linebacker U." for sending numerous defenders into the professional ranks. Home grown linebackers include Chuck Bednarik, Jack Ham, Bill George, Matt Millen, LaVar Arrington, Joe Schmidt and many others.

• Pennsylvania high schools have produced 23 inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (including owners) and that doesn't count the legendary Jim Thorpe, who played collegiately at the Carlisle Indian School and has a town named in his honor.

• With such primary industries as steel and coal taking economic hits, population has dropped along with the number of major college recruits. However, the Keystone State remains on the recruiting radar for several top college programs including neighboring state colleges like Ohio State (which landed the nation's top recruit in 2008, Terrelle Pryor of Jeannette, Pa.), and West Virginia plus Notre Dame and other Big Ten and Big East members.

• The state four-class high school playoffs have a natural East vs. West rivalry that isn't always the case in other states. The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) governs the teams in the Pittsburgh area with the four Western finals contested at Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. They advance to take on the best of the East, including the Philadelphia and Harrisburg areas.