Big dogs, take the muzzles off. And don’t even think about barking.
You know who you are among the high school football elite: Texas, California and Florida.
Sure, a National Football League release this week revealed you indeed have produced the most active NFL players – California is tops at 205, followed by Texas (179) and Florida (176).
But when it comes to per capita, the ratio of players per population, none of the those pit bulls rank among the top five.
The big winner? Louisiana and the deep south.
There are 80 Louisiana high school graduates in the NFL in a state of just under 4.5-million, meaning one-per- 55,862. That’s better odds than the Lions winning, well, just about anything.
The next highest ratios are Mississippi (42 players, 1/67,730), followed by South Carolina (51, 1/78,667), District of Columbia (7, 1/81,723) and Alabama (53, 1/83,908). The national average is 1-per-166,031.
J.T. Curtis, Louisiana’s most successful coach with 23 state titles in 40 seasons at John Curtis Christian High School (River Ridge), said a good old fashioned love for the game is the biggest reason for the state’s penchant for producing football professionals.
And we all thought it was spicy food.
Curtis, whose father founded the school in 1962, has helped send 12 players to the NFL including former pros Reggie Dupard, Chris Howard and Jonathan Wells. A few more that could be on the way are USC junior tailback Joe McKnight, Nebraska redshirt freshman P.J. Smith and current Curtis senior cornerback Jonathan McKnight, Joe’s younger brother.
“Football is the national pastime in Louisiana,” he said. “I guess the numbers don’t lie. It’s a testament to the type of football we play here in the entire state, from top to bottom. There is no real weak area.”
Evangel Christian Academy (Shreveport, La.) hasn’t been close to weak even before coach John Bachman arrived 13 years ago. The Eagles went 15-0 four consecutive seasons beginning in 1996 and were crowned national champions by USA Today in 1999.
Bachman said he wasn’t surprised at the results, patting his fellow coaches squarely on the back.
“Louisiana coaches do a great job getting them ready for college,” he said.
Bachman and his staff might be the best in the state at doing that. They’ve sent more than 100 to Division I programs, he said, and that number will definitely grow when Jermauria Rasco, considered the top rated junior defensive end in the country, moves on.
Evangel has sent seven or eight to NFL camps, according to Bachman, including quarterback Brock Berlin, Jacob Hester and John David Booty.
“The thing about high school football and Louisiana and the South is it’s still a big deal around here,” he said. “There’s a trend going around the country where educators don’t necessarily see the full importance of being a student-athlete. That trend hasn’t struck the South yet.”
Neither have restrictions on year-round training and team workouts. Teams are allowed to practice 15 days in a 30-day span during the spring in Louisiana and summer workouts include helmets. There’s also jamborees and scrimmages plus a 15-game schedule if your teach reaches the state finals.
“That’s all conducive to good training, good fundamentals and good football,” Curtis said. “We’re able to truly prepare our kids for the commitment of game.”
That certainly translates well to the level before the NFL. And both Curtis and Bachman agree there is no better training ground for Sundays than Saturdays at Death Valley in Baton Rouge.
Most of the top-tier Louisiana prep stars tend to stay in state at LSU, a pipeline to the NFL.
“If you’ve never experienced Tiger Stadium on a Saturday then you’ve missed a real treat in athletics,” Curtis said. “When you have 90,000 passionate, rabid, committed, excited fans, it just permeates throughout the state.”
So does good talent. Curtis acknowledge it’s a big reason why he’s accumulated a gaudy 471 career wins against just 49 losses and six ties.
“We currently have four or five Division I quarterbacks in the New Orleans Metro area alone,” Curtis said. “We’re definitely blessed with a lot of quality, skilled kids.”
DEMATHA DEROCKS: The high school with the most current NFL players is DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) with seven. Those players are Quinn Ojinaka (Falcons), John Owens (Seahawks), Derek Wake (Dolphins), Brian Westbrook (Eagles), Byron Westbrook (Redskins), Josh Wilson (Seahawks) and Edwin Williams (Redskins).
Five schools boast five NFL players: Carol City (Miami, Fla.), De La Salle (Concord, Calif.), Roosevelt (Greenbelt, Md.), Glenville (Cleveland, Ohio), Lee (Tyler, Texas) and Woodland Hills (Pittsburgh, Pa.).
According to the report, 10 schools have four players each in the NFL, 49 have three and 173 boast two players apiece.
MORE NFL TALK: After the big three, the states with the most NFL players are Ohio (90), Georgia (80), Louisiana (80), Alabama (53), South Carolina (51), Virginia (51), Pennsylvania (50), Michigan (49), North Carolina (46), Maryland (43) and New Jersey (43).
After the top five per capita were Florida (1/90,809), Hawaii (1/93,195), Georgia (1/102,331), Texas (1/116.491) and Maryland (1/123,174).
Miami (Fla.) is the most popular hometown of NFL players (31), followed by Houston (23), Detroit (15), Dallas (12), Cincinnati (11), Cleveland (11), Los Angeles (11), New Orleans (11), Chicago (10), Atlanta (9), Columbus (Ohio, 9), Washington D.C. (9) and Charlotte (N.C., 8).
STINSON ACQUITTAL: Curtis was asked about the landmark Jason Stinson trial, that ended last week with the acquittal of the former Pleasure Ridge Park (Ky.) coach charged with reckless homicide and wanton endangerment in the 2008 death of sophomore lineman Max Gilpin.
Max died of heat stroke after collapsing at a pre-season practice.
Curtis was quite careful not to elaborate on the specifics of the Stinson case, but spoke forcefully on the topic of heat, football and preparation.
He said the state became sensitive to the issue in one of his first years in coaching when a player at nearby Ben Franklin High School died from heat-related issues while in football pads.
“It caused quite a furor and rightly so,” Curtis said. “We live in a state that this can be a major problem. The heat and humidity in August is intense. Forty years ago we had a death and we had to look at ourselves and ask what we can do to better acclimate to the conditions?"
The liberal year-round participation rules have helped, he said.
“Being around these kids year round you really get to know these kids and what they are comfortable with,” Curtis said. “We work with them all summer so when we get into the key work of practice we know all about them. … We can’t and won’t pass judgment at the situation in Kentucky. In our situation here, we do our very best to make sure they are acclimated to the weather, that they have water all the time, are properly hydrated before, during and after practice and when a kid says he doesn’t feel right, we get them off the field.”
Curtis and his team were at the heart of a best-selling book Hurricane Season, which detailed the tumultuous 2006 state-championship year while battling Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
“These are all delicate situations,” he said. “We all just hope to learn and grow from them.”