Virginia boasts unconventional players
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.
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:
Agree? Disagree? Join the debate.
No. 8 seed VirginiaPopulation: 7.7 million
Number of high schools playing football: 350
Pro Football Hall of Famers: seven, most recent LB Lawrence Taylor, C Dwight Stephenson, Henry Jordan, LB Willie Lanier. (Editor's note: DL Bruce Smith will be eligible for induction next year.)
Heisman Trophy winners: None.
Top current NFL alums: DB Ronde Barber, WR Plaxico Burress, RB Thomas Jones, RB Julius Jones, LB James Farrior.
Great schools: Hampton (Crabbers have won state record 17 titles and back-to-back FAB 50 national crowns from 1996-97); Phoebus of Hampton (this season the Phantoms seek their 4th state title since 2001); Powell Valley of Big Stone Gap (small school state title contender and also produces top talent, including NFL running backs Thomas and Julius Jones.)
Points of greatness:
• Virginia has three distinct metro areas -- Northern Virginia, Richmond and the Tidewater area -- that dominate the state playoff system. Northern Virginia and the Tidewater area have combined to claim every Division 6 state title since 1992 and all but one Division 5 crown since 1999. Northern Virginia, suburbs to Washington, D.C., features the state's largest schools. The Tidewater area tends to produce the most Division I-A college players.
• Three players who redefined their positions in the NFL hail from Virginia -- former Buffalo Bills defensive end great Bruce Smith, New York Giants standout Lawrence Taylor and former dynamic Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.
• The talent in Virginia has been noticed nationwide. Fifteen college programs in the Associated Press preseason Top 25, including seven of the top 10, feature at least one Virginia high school player. Georgia, Ohio State and USC all have Virginia players on the roster.
• Hampton, led by Ronald Curry, became the first school to claim back-to-back National Prep Poll No. 1 rankings (1996-1997). The Crabbers rolled off 40 straight wins during a three-year span in which it claimed state titles (1995, 1996 and 1997). Curry, now a receiver for the Oakland Raiders, was the team's quarterback.
• Remember the Titans! The 2000 drama featuring Denzel Washington was a box office hit. The movie was based on the 1971 T.C. Williams team that went through a challenging integration and emerged as undefeated state champions.