By: Jim Halley, USA TODAY High School Sports | May 5, 2017
You can’t be considered one of the top high school football teams in the country if you don’t play a tough schedule and based on early information, these are the five toughest schedules in the country:
IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) has little rest
The Ascenders don’t play for a state title and don’t play in a region, so that allows them to pursue a crazy difficult schedule.
IMG opens up Aug. 26 at Arizona 6A champion Chandler, and plays two other state champions on the road in two-time Utah 4A champion East (Salt Lake City) and Hoover, the Alabama 7A champ. The Ascenders also play host to Washington Catholic Athletic Conference runner-up St. John’s (Washington, D.C.) and in San Diego’s Honor Bowl on Sept. 2 vs. Centennial (Corona, Calif.), which lost to eventual California Open Division champion St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) by two points.
Ascenders coach Kevin Wright said the road games don’t worry him as much as the total strength of the schedule,
“It’s not necessarily playing on the road, because I think our kids love the playing in different atmospheres,” Wright said. “The tough part for us is the level of travel. We’re not just traveling to a road game two hours away. We are playing in Arizona, we’re playing in San Diego, we’re playing in Salt Lake City. The toughest part of our schedule is there is no break in our schedule, other than the bye week. You have to be playing at your best every single week. We realize we’re going to get everyone’s best shot. We are playing top teams that have athletes, where if you don’t show up, they can beat you. … It’s hard to find a team that’s not a top 125 team on our schedule.”
St. John’s (Washington, D.C.) must survive first five
The Cadets will be really good if they can survive their opening five games. They begin at home on Aug. 26 with Jones (Orlando, Fla.), which has been stockpiling talented transfers. St. John’s then travels Sept. 2 to California Open Division runner-up De La Salle (Concord.). The Cadets come back home Sept. 9 to play St. Joseph Regional (Montvale, N.J.), followed by a game at IMG Academy on Sept. 15. The last of the five is Sept. 23 at home with St. John Bosco, and later in the season, the Cadets have at least one matchup with WCAC champion DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.), and possibly a second game with the Stags in the playoffs.
“I would say we have to be up there,” St. John’s coach Joe Casamento said. “When you get kids and want them to be as great as they can possibly be, you have to show them what’s out there. I want to play De La Salle, because you have to admire the culture they’ve built. My thought was, if we wanted to be great, we wanted to play as many great teams as we can, we have to learn from them. … They will start to learn what types of things we have to do to be champions. We can talk about it, and that’s great, but I want to play the teams that have it, so the kids can see it.”
St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) will be road warriors
What did winning a state bowl championship get the Braves? Two really tough road games three time zones away this season.
Bosco opens at St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale), which won its 10th state title last season, on Aug. 25. The Braves also travel to St. John’s (Washington, D.C.) on Sept. 23. The Braves’ toughest game, however, may be at home when they play Mater Dei (Santa Ana), a potential preseason No. 1 team, on Oct. 13.
Bishop Gorman looks outside of state for comp
The Gaels are the three-time defending Super 25 champion and because their competition in-state is less than stellar, they always look for good out-of-state opponents. The Gaels open Aug. 25 at home with DeMatha, followed by a game Sept. 1 at Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.). Then comes two more quality opponents at home.: Sept. 8, the Gaels play host to Miami (Fla.) Central, which has won four state titles in the past five seasons and on Sept. 16, De La Salle travels to Gorman’s Fertitta Field.
Grayson (Loganville, Ga.) gets early tests in title defense
The Rams have a new coach in Christian Hunnicutt, but another difficult schedule. They open at home with the Alabama 7A champion in Hoover on Aug. 25 and play host to the Alabama 6A titlist in Ramsay (Birmingham) on Sept. 29. They also go up against traditional power John Curtis Christian (River Ridge, La.) in the Battle of the Border in Shreveport on Sept. 9.
Also considered: St. Frances Academy (Baltimore), Hoover, Ala., and Bishop Sullivan (Virgnia Beach).
St. Frances, the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association AA defending champion, opens at at home Sept. 1 with tough independent Bishop Sullivan, followed by a tough away game Sept. 8 with IMG. The Panthers also travel to traditional New Jersey powerhouse Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey) on Sept. 15.
“I want our kids to see what really good teams look like,” St. Frances coach Henry Russell said. “That’s part of it and the second part of it is to get an opportunity to travel, to play a game in a different part of the country is a lot of fun and a great experience.”
Hoover opens at Georgia state AAAAAAA champion Grayson on Aug. 25 and closes at home against IMG on Nov. 3. The Buccaneers also play host to Mississippi 6A quarterfinalist Meridian on Sept. 1. Bishop Sullivan is ineligible for its state playoffs, so the Crusaders make up for that with out-of-state, and in two cases, out-of-country, opponents. They open at home Aug. 26 with Florida 5A champion American Heritage (Plantation) and travel to IMG on Nov. 11. They also play host to two teams from Ontario, Canada, playing Prep Football Academy on Oct. 7 and Royal Imperial Collegiate on Oct. 20.
Bishop Gorman High School (Las Vegas NV), Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School (Virginia Beach VA), Grayson High School (Loganville GA), Hoover (Ala.), IMG Academy (Bradenton FL), St. Frances Academy (Baltimore MD), St. John Bosco High School (Bellflower CA), St. John's College High (Washington DC), Super 25