In less than two weeks, high school football teams across Florida officially open fall practice.
Friday nights soon will be filled with the best of what makes high school football, I believe, the greatest sport in the world.
High school is the final stopping point for most football players. A 5-foot-9, 175-pound kid can still play the line or linebacker and be successful in high school. That same kid, if fast enough, might have a chance to play receiver or defensive back at the college level.
The high school linebacker who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.9 or 5.0 seconds might not get a second look at the next level, but can excel against his high school peers.
Sometimes we are lulled into false expectations for the kids we see star on Friday night. We want to believe the running back who rips off 60-yard touchdown runs against Milton or Northview is capable of playing in the Atlantic Coast or Southeastern Conference.
The truth is that greatness in high school — even record-setting greatness — doesn’t always translate into a college football career.
I’ve seen a number of great players in my 40-plus years of following high school football.
In the early 1970s Walton had a tailback, Mitzi Jackson, who went on to play at Auburn. Jackson was a special player in high school and a solid college player, but he probably came up short of people's expectations when he graduated from high school.
Marianna had a big defensive tackle, Wylie Barnes, who was a high school All-American in 1975 and signed with Alabama. Barnes was 6-4, 280, but he never impressed me. One of my Gulf Breeze teammates who weighed 145 pounds manhandled the big man.
I wasn’t surprised that Barnes was a bust at Alabama.
Eighteen years ago, while working at a Lenoir City, Tenn., newspaper, I covered Travis Adams, a tailback. Adams set the state single-season record for rushing: right at 3,000 yards. He seemed to have enough size and speed to play big-time college football, but it never happened.
The University of Tennessee offered Adams an opportunity to join the Vols as a preferred walk-on. Adams decided to attend Austin Peay University on a full scholarship. He lasted one year at Austin Peay before returning home to marry his high school sweetheart and go to work for his father’s roofing company.
An elite few transcend the norm and go on and star at the college and professional levels.
Back in the fall of 1984, my dad and I attended the Gulf Breeze-Escambia game. Escambia had a little sophomore running back who torched the Dolphins for something like 200 yards and three or four touchdowns, and he sat out most of the second half.
As we were leaving the stadium at Escambia, I turned to Dad and said, “I don’t know who that kid from Escambia is, but he’s going to be a great one.”
That kid — Emmitt Smith — was a high school All-American, a college All-American at Florida and the leading rusher in National Football League history.
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.