For Tom Lemming, a recruiting expert who has published Prep Football Magazine for nearly four decades, the ideal community for high school football “has got to be a town that doesn’t have a professional team, one that has a tradition for high school football, builds the kids up with youth leagues and youth programs — which towns in the South do much more than in the North.”
In the South, Lemming added, “they grow up not wanting to be a racecar driver, a baseball player, a basketball player — but a football player.”
And while the N.F.L. draft disperses talent without much regard for geography, college recruiting is different. Players are more likely to choose a college program near where they grew up, particularly home-state teams that they have rooted for and that their families can easily travel to for games.
Who is best on Friday night, then, influences who is best on Saturday. The dominance of Southern high school football is no doubt a factor in Southeastern Conference teams’ winning eight of the last 10 national championships, as well as Florida State’s title three seasons ago out of the Atlantic Coast Conference and the title game appearance last season by Clemson, which is a couple of hours’ drive from Rock Hill.
Gilmore, for example, was coaxed to South Carolina in part by state pride, according to his mother, Linda, who can be found selling popcorn and soda at the South Pointe concessions booth on Friday nights while another son, Steven, takes the field for the Stallions. Steve Spurrier, the Gamecocks’ coach during Gilmore’s recruitment, took six assistants to the Gilmores’ home in Rock Hill. They ate apple pie. Spurrier told Gilmore, “We need for you to stay in state, come here, and change our program.”
Two years later, Spurrier returned to South Pointe and persuaded Clowney to stay in state.
Inspired by Pros
In Northwestern High’s purple-and-gold weight room one Thursday morning several weeks ago, music by Wiz Khalifa and Young Dolph blasted out of speakers as the team followed a lifting protocol projected onto the wall. The ratio of players to coaches seemed like that at a top college program.
On the wall of a narrow hallway off the weight room are listed all the Northwestern graduates who have gone on to the N.F.L., including in recent years the Vikings’ Patterson, who is also a punt and kick returner; Houston Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph; and Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson.
“It motivates me to keep pushing,” said Logan Rudolph, a tight end who has committed to Clemson. Rudolph also has motivation closer to home: He is the younger brother of Mason Rudolph, the Oklahoma State quarterback.