Somewhere someone is putting together a Top-25 rankings list for high school football across the country. It’s an arbitrary process, but your usual suspects make it on.
Mater Dei High and De La Salle in California. Fort Lauderdale’s St. Thomas Aquinas. Hoover High in Alabama. Several of those giant Texas high schools with stadiums bigger and more luxurious than many colleges.
These schools churn out Division-I prospects, invite documentaries in to film them, and have movies made about the football-crazed culture of the state.
A minimal-sized high school on the corner of Ocala Road and Tharpe Street doesn’t pop into mind.
Yet, Godby is blazing a new path this season for Tallahassee.
The defending 5A state champs first play in Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium on Saturday against Class 8A Tampa Plant. The game which will televised on FOX Sports at 2 p.m.
The following week sees the Cougars on a 14-hour bus ride up to the University of Maryland to take on national No. 15 DeMatha Catholic under the lights of the Terrapins’ Byrd Stadium on Labor Day. That game will be televised on ESPN at 4 p.m.
“You don’t get to line up and play two nationally-ranked teams many times in your career, much less on TV, much less in the venues of a pro or college stadium,” Godby coach Ronnie Cottrell said.
“It’s all overwhelming really, but it’s extremely exciting. Its a great blessing for our program.”
Godby senior linebacker and Florida State commit Jacob Pugh is aware of the challenges. The desire to push himself to new heights and lead his team into two tough contests got him out of his spring doldrums.
“Knowing this is my senior year, my last year to prove myself, to accomplish what I want to accomplish, the first day of summer I came in with the mindset that I wanted to get better and stronger,” Pugh said. “I want to accept coaching better, be conditioned well, get better at speaking up.”
Cougars senior quarterback J.T. Bradwell also has an improved role. He had the luxury of handing off the ball to several versatile backs last year. He could loft balls to stable hands down the field.
Godby lost over 3,700 yards and 49 touchdowns of offensive production, but Bradwell sees guys ready to fill those holes and put their own spectacular statistical stamp on the upcoming season.
“We have a bunch of players that are coming into bigger roles this year,” Bradwell said. “I believe they’re ready. They want to be better than the seniors we had last year. I see them wanting to work and putting in the effort.”
Plant, which finished 10-2 a season ago, traveled to the New Orleans Superdome last year and got whipped 33-3 by the No. 1 team in the country from Curtis, La. But the Panthers also won a state title in 2011 and bring in a team filled with over 90 upperclassmen.
Compare that to the 60 varsity players and 23 seniors Godby will dress.
“It’s a little scary, the whole situation,” Cottrell said.
“The caveat is that our players play hard. They love playing this game. And I think we’re going to give them our best effort. Our players will go play hard and play well, I just hope it’s good enough. We can’t control what they do or how they are. We can only control what we do.
“They’re very good. It’s going to take an extreme effort for us to play these guys, but we don’t back down. It’s part of the Godby tradition– we’ll play anybody anywhere anytime.”
Bradwell expects Cottrell will take away their cell phones prior to hopping on the team busses, but says it has helped the Cougars’ focus before.
“We’re going to go out there and set the tone for the year,” Pugh said. “We’re going to let all our opponents know that we’re on a mission, trying to get back to state. This will be like a preview of what we gonna do.”
Cottrell is drawing on his collegiate coaching experience and the preparation of his assistants to face this daunting yet exciting stretch.
They have been preaching hydration, conditioning, sleep, safety and character. For as much as there will be fun involved and memories made, it is still a business trip.
“We accept the good with the bad,” Cottrell said. “And we’re going to try to prepare as well as we can to avoid the pitfalls.”
But Godby likely needs this for its football success. Potential is just that.
“I learned we can’t just be talented,” Bradwell said of what he’s taken from last year. “We have to be good as a whole team to pull any game off.”
In many ways, the Plant game will prepare Godby for its northerly trip. And both games will prepare it to face its district schedule, teams such as Lincoln, and ideally the playoffs.
In two weeks, it will all be over. By season’s end, it will feel like it happened years ago.
For those reasons, Cottrell receives satisfaction in getting to see the reaction of kids who’ve never been to Washington D.C., who’ve never played in a pro stadium and may never again.
“These kids deserve that opportunity,” said Cottrell, whose wife is a proud Godby alum.
“Those are the things I’m excited about, to be able to take these kids places they may have never been before . . . but ultimately it comes down to two games, and we have to prepare well and play well in those. I’m as nervous as I can be about it.”