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Armwood in talks to play nationally televised out-of-state football game

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Fri. January 7, 2011 | Eduardo A. Encina

For the second straight season, a top Hillsborough County football team could play in an out-of-state, nationally televised game.

Class 4A state runnerup Armwood is in early discussions to play in a game that could be broadcast on an ESPN network, Armwood coach Sean Callahan confirmed Friday.

"It's something that would be good for the program," Callahan said. "It's something that seems like the obvious next step for us."

The Hawks' possible opponents include yearly state title contenders Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, Prattville (Ala.) or Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County.

The game would be organized by Paragon Marketing, a Chicago-based company that organizes premier high school contests for ESPN, including Plant's trip to play Abilene (Texas) this past fall on ESPNU.

Paragon paid for most of Plant's trip to Texas, including airfare and hotel, meals and other transportation at a cost of what was believed to be about $50,000.

The game would need approval at the state and county levels, but Hillsborough County athletic director Lanness Robinson, who said nothing is imminent, said he told the organizers of last year's Plant-Abilene game that Armwood should be a team to consider for 2011.

"The precedent has been set," Robinson said. "We don't want to hold back our nationally-recognized teams."

When Armwood won back-to-back state titles in 2003 and '04, Callahan tried to organize an out-of-state contest. Armwood and Jefferson played a local game on ESPNU in 2006, and the Hawks played Plant and top QB recruit Aaron Murray in 2008 on ESPN, but an out-of-state game never materialized until now.

"It took either us or Plant or someone us to open the door," Callahan said. "When Plant went to Texas last year, I was one of the happiest ones because it meant that other teams could get the opportunity to play other teams at the highest level."

Armwood, an annual state title contender, fits the blueprint of a team that would be attractive for a nationally-televised, out-of-state game. The Hawks return the majority of their starters, are likely to be nationally ranked and boast top-line rising senior recruits like RB Matt Jones and OL Cody Waldrop.

Bishop Gorman is one of the top overall high school athletic programs in the country, last school year winning state titles in football, boys basketball and baseball. The Gaels football team has won nine state crowns, including three in the past four years. Bishop Gorman's Ronnie Stanley is one of the top rising senior OT prospects in the nation.

A trip to Camden County would be much like Plant's trip to Abilene. The Hawks would be facing one of the nation's top programs, which has incredible community support. The Wildcats have won three state titles, including back-to-back Class 5A state crowns in 2008 and '09. They also own a state record 58-game regular-season win streak and have won 10 straight region titles.

Prattville, a big-school power in Alabama, winning three state titles in the past seven years. The Lions went to the Class 6A state title game in 2009 and are no stranger to out-of-state games, having traveled to Don Bosco Prep in N.J. and Miami Central last season.

-- EDUARDO A. ENCINA (eencina@sptimes.com: Twitter: @EddieHometeam)

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