By BC Castaldo
Today I spent the day reading the previews of the different Florida high school football teams from this year’s Friday Night Football Florida, and also getting ready to do shoot with Davone Bess of the Miami Dolphins for a segment he will do for the Generation Nexxt TV show. With this being my first year working for Generation Nexxt, I do find it necessary for me to quickly learn as much as I can about Florida youth and high school football. I grew up in Connecticut and have spent the last five years in Miami (4 of them at the University of Miami), so while I new there was great talent in South Florida High School football and I knew the names of some of the top high schools, I didn’t really know much more then that. Now that I am involved with everything youth football I am amazed with the way things are done in Florida are just SO different from the way that things were run in Connecticut.
To many of the people from South Florida the way that youth football is done is just the way that it is. The parents played in the youth football leagues, they then come back and help out and coach, and then when they have kids, the kids play football. Now don’t think that I am knocking the system. South Florida has produced some of the best football players in the country, and produces more D1 talent then anywhere in the country. I just think that many of the people in South Florida do not understand just how different there system is, in comparison to other States in the United States.
In West Hartford, CT where I am from the leagues are all in town leagues, meaning that each town has several teams (between 4 and 10 depending on division) and they all play against each other for the season. The divisions are Instructional/Flag football for 5 and 6 year olds or under 2nd grade, Mighty Mite for 7-9 year olds (9yr. olds must be 110lbs, or less) or under 5th grade, Pee Wee for 9-11 year olds (must be 130 or less) or under 7th grade, Midget for 10-12 year olds (12yr. olds must be 160lbs or less) or under 8th grade, and Pony for 12-14 year olds or under 9th grade. So with this set up the talent is very diluted and it is not until high school where the youths in Connecticut really get to compete against the other talented players from across the state. Meanwhile in Florida the talent is not as diluted and kids are facing the top kids from other cities and towns from the start.
Overall the mentality regarding the sport might be the biggest difference. In Connecticut football is just another sport that you can play. Where I grew up generally before high school in the fall you either played soccer, football, or some played lacrosse, in the winter you played basketball or hockey, and in the spring you play baseball. But in South Florida football is a way of life. Every little league and high school program in South Florida has a success story of at least one guy who has gone onto the NFL and multiple players who have gone in to Division 1. While some kids may also play basketball and/or baseball, football is still on everyone’s mind.
The abundance of talent that is down in Florida makes the Friday night high school games the places to be. Several hundred people turn up for most of the high school games, meanwhile my high school in Connecticut is lucky to get a hundred people to come out for any game other then when we play our cross town rivals. Maybe things would be different for my home state football if they had the mentality and off-season opportunities that the high school and youth football players have down here. Connecticut does not have the kind of summer programs that they have down here. In Connecticut there are only a handful of weeklong camps for kids, and events such as combines are almost nonexistent. In South Florida it seems every weekend there is a combine or 7-on-7 tournament for the high school players, and plenty of camps for the younger football players to attend during the week. I maybe criticized for mentioning this just as much as I would have if I don’t, but for many in South Florida football is seen as a way out of the inner city. I am from one of the most affluent and educated states in the country so for most of us, we were expected to perform well academically and then go on to college. However for many of those who live in different parts of South Florida the public schools are not that good, people do not have the money to send their kinds to college, and there are many other negative forces working against the kids to where a football scholarship to a college is there only way out of the neighborhoods they grew up in, so they focus in on being the best football player possible.
Whatever the reason I am completely blown away by the structure of the youth football leagues and also the unbelievable talent that exists in the Florida high schools. With youth football leagues starting their practices already and games about a month away I can’t wait for it to start and to be out there covering the games with the GenNexxt crew.