ABILENE, Texas — In preparing for his team’s out-of-state opponent, Abilene coach Steve Warren recently popped in game film of Plant’s preseason loss to Bradenton Manatee and was awed by the Hurricanes.
“That team should be in a BCS bowl,” Warren said. “Good lord they’re good. They were in midseason form.”
As one of the top large schools in Texas, Warren sees some of the state’s top talent. Last year, his Eagles survived the 64-team Class 5A Division 2 field to win a state championship.
Thursday, Plant will have its opportunity to play for national bragging rights. ESPN’s organizing company, Paragon Marketing, set up this made-for-TV matchup at Abilene’s Shotwell Stadium to pair what many feel are the top states for high school football.
But determining which state is best depends on whom you ask.
“(Hillsborough County has) tough, physical, fast football,” Plant coach Robert Weiner said Friday after the Panthers’ 20-13 win over Hillsborough. “We’ll go and put our football up against anybody in terms of the kind of competition we play night in and night out.”
The Panthers can place another notch on the Sunshine State’s belt of recent supremacy over Texas.
Last week, Abilene’s 17-game winning streak was snapped by Florida defending Class 2A state champion Cocoa. At the same event, the inaugural Florida vs. Texas High School Showcase, Miami Central and Belle Glade Glades Central defeated their Texas opponents. Defending Class 6A champ Miramar lost by a point in overtime to DeSoto.
“This year is an unusually good year for high school football in Florida, with a large number of outstanding athletes and some great coaching,” said Dallas Jackson, national high school football senior analyst for Rivals.com. “It’s all cyclical, and the same could be said about Florida or Texas or any number of states next year.”
This week’s Rivals.com Top 100 national ranks 14 teams from Florida, most ever from one state, Jackson said.
Warren, whose team dropped 20 spots to No. 25, said the number of good teams in Texas might give it the edge.
“I have no doubt that the best teams in Florida could compete with the best teams in Texas,” he said. “I think the big difference probably would be when you start getting out of the upper echelon teams in Florida maybe. Our state has so many great football teams. That’s where the comparison might end. I don’t know how many high schools there are in Florida, but there are 1,600 in Texas.” (The Florida High School Athletic Association lists approximately 550 members.)
Plant running back/defensive end James Wilder Jr. knows how deeply rooted the Texas-Florida rivalry is. He remembers being booed during the U.S. Army All-American combine in San Antonio, Texas, in the offseason when he was named MVP.
“We’ve been having Florida teams all this year going out to Texas and just whooping them,” Wilder said. “I hope we’re the next team. We know they’re watching us on film, so we’re about to go out there and do what we’ve got to do, show them how Florida football works.”
Staff writer Adam Berry contributed to this report.