There are many critics who argue that the caliber of high school football in Illinois is overrated, that it pales in comparison to the level of basketball.
But Illinois ranks among the top 10 states in the number of Division I scholarship athletes and NFL players that it produces annually.
It is generally agreed that Illinois ranks behind Florida, Texas, California, Georgia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. But it fits in nicely after them, along with New Jersey.
High school football is sometimes overlooked in Illinois because there are so many professional teams in the Chicago area. High school football isn't a priority, as it is in hundreds of small towns in Texas.
There are reasons why Illinois football could be so much better.
For openers, Illinois doesn't have spring football, which affords kids more time to develop and provides more opportunities to earn college scholarships.
This is an era of specialization--and it has hurt Illinois as much or more than any other state. Whereas almost everyone outside Illinois puts their efforts into football, allowing prospects in the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-10 areas to get more exposure and obtain scholarships, kids in Illinois concentrate on basketball.
Illinois athletes lack speed. Kids in the South run year-round. In the South, football is king. Kids in Atlanta are playing football while kids in Chicago are playing basketball. In fact, because of basketball, the track and field programs in Chicago, which once were among the strongest in the state, have become virtually extinct.
A lot of kids in Chicago are good basketball players but they could be great football players if the chose to be. Chicago is a sleeping giant. With such a large population, Chicago could dominate in football like Los Angeles, if more people were concerned about encouraging kids to play the game and seek scholarships.
Remember, there are many more college scholarships available in football than basketball. College recruiters are looking for quick, athletic cornerbacks and safeties and wide receivers, the kind of kids who play point guard on the basketball team.
The Chicago Public League is trying to get that message across to young athletes. I have seen growth in the last three or four years that I didn't see for 30 years. Public League officials like J.W. Smith, Mickey Pruitt, Roy Curry and Calvin Davis must be credited with trying to restore interest in football in the city. And programs such as Simeon, Hubbard and Morgan Park are developing and producing Division I players every year.
The future looks bright.