If you are a tourist, you love Florida…the Gulf Coast beaches, Disney World, golf, South Beach, Palm Beach, Daytona Beach, fishing, shopping on St. Armand’s Circle or Worth Avenue, Key West, Cape Canaveral, the Grapefruit League.
But if you are a college football recruiter, you love Florida even more. Florida produces more college prospects than any state with the possible exception of Texas. The Chicago area produces as much talent as any city in Florida—Miami or Tampa or Jacksonville or Tallahassee or Orlando—but the rest of Illinois isn’t comparable.
In Florida, every small town—from Apopka to Senffner to Eagle Lake to Frostproof to Pahokee to Mount Dora to Deltona to Okeechobee to Cross City—has a big-time football player. Football is so important in the state that every community is galvanized around the high school coach and his program.
Kids are nurtured on football from an early age, more than basketball and baseball. Football is king, like in Texas and Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana. Senffner, outside of Tampa, produced four potential All-Americans last year, two this year.
Pahokee had nine Division I players last year and the town is smaller than Schaumburg. Belle Glade has more players in the NFL than Thornton of Harvey. Madison, which has only one stoplight, had two All-Americans last year.
Why is football so popular in Florida? And why is the talent level so much better than Illinois and most other states?
For openers, Florida has spring football. In Illinois, kids are encouraged to participate in multiple sports so spring football is banned.
In Florida and throughout the South, kids dedicate themselves to football. They have meetings with football coaches and engage in weight training on a year-round basis.
Football means so much that they have different rules for the sport. It is treated like college football. Coaches are paid more. Stadiums are bigger. There is more enthusiasm. Friday night isn’t a game, it’s an event.
In the small towns, the people rally around the coach and the football team. They are mostly poor towns but people talk about football all the time. And the coaches are always involved with their kids. You don’t see that kind of involvement or enthusiasm in Illinois, that kind of intensity.
Of course, the warmer weather has something to do with it. Games usually are played in 50 to 60 degree temperatures (at the coldest) and there is no snow on the ground, good atmosphere for producing good athletes.
The fact is no great Division I players ever come out of small towns in Illinois, not like the small towns in Florida.