High School Football Stories of the Year

South Pointe (Rock Hill, S.C.) defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, now at South Carolina, was the most hyped football recruit in a decade. John Fedele/ESPNHS

From Jadeveon Clowney’s recruitment to Johnathan Gray, Dorial Green-Beckham and Maty Mauk breaking national records, we look back at the stories that made this a compelling year of high school football.

The Hype of Jadeveon Clowney

Clowney had a boatload of pressure placed upon him starting with his junior year of high school when people began calling him the best high school football recruit in a decade. Somehow the South Pointe (Rock Hill, S.C.) star defensive end backed it up, recording a ridiculous 162 tackles and 29.5 sacks as a senior. Every major college coach would have loved to get him to sign a letter of intent, so that’s why it’s fitting Clowney signed with South Carolina on Valentine’s Day, which also happened to be his 18th birthday.

The Emergence of Robert Nkemdiche

After Clowney graduated, he passed the torch to Nkemdiche, an immensely talented junior defensive lineman at Grayson (Loganville, Ga.). The 6-foot-5, 270-pounder has the same freakish type of athleticism as Clowney and also the burden of living up to expectations. But like Clowney, he hasn’t let it bother him. This year, Nkemdiche led POWERADE FAB 50 No. 4 Grayson to its first state title and tallied 18 sacks despite facing double- and triple-teams every game.

Gridiron Records Shattered

It seemed as if no high school football record was safe this season.

Aledo (Texas) senior running back Johnathan Gray became the nation’s all-time leader in career touchdowns (205), which he set in his final high school game, and finished second in career points (1,232).

Meanwhile, Hillcrest (Springfield, Mo.) senior wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham broke the career receiving yards (6,356) mark, and Kenton (Ohio) senior quarterback Maty Mauk capped his unbelievable career with national career records in passing yards (18,932), touchdown passes (219), completions (1,353), attempts (2,110) and total yards (22,681).

Mainland, Joplin & Tuscaloosa Overcome the Odds

In sports, the idea is to never back down from the opponent no matter how big or intimidating. Unfortunately for thousands in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Joplin, Mo., and Linwood, N.J., nobody told them their greatest opponents would come by way of natural disasters and tragedy. In April, a massive tornado tore through Tuscaloosa. A month later, another violent tornado demolished the town and school in Joplin. And in August, four Mainland Regional football players died in a car accident.

As the rebuilding continues in each town, sports, in particular football, have helped the communities unite as reminders that even these opponents can’t destroy their wills.

The Rise of 7-on-7

AAU basketball, for good and for bad, has been a staple of the high school hoops scene for decades. Now high school football could have its own version of AAU in the form of 7-on-7 traveling teams.

The rise of 7-on-7 teams has become a hot-button issue with the NCAA because of the fear of third-party influences who could jeopardize the college eligibility of players on those traveling teams. And this June, the SEC banned non-scholastic 7-on-7 events from being held on its schools’ campuses.

Don Bosco Prep’s Run to a National Title

The Ironmen began the year with a bull’s-eye on their backs after being ranked No. 1 in the preseason POWERADE FAB 50 ESPNHS Team Rankings. But Bosco backed up the billing, running through a competitive schedule that included a road win over No. 12 Manatee (Bradenton, Fla.) to go wire-to-wire as the nation’s top team.

It was the second time in three years the Ironmen have finished No. 1 in the FAB 50. Maybe it’s time we started including New Jersey among the football power states.

Girls Make Impact on Gridiron

Girl athletes made headlines — and big plays — all over the football field this fall. Brianna Amat was dubbed the “kicking queen” and gained national attention for making the game-winning field goal for Pinckney (Mich.) on the same night she was named homecoming queen. Andrea Marsh, a senior cornerback at Panama (N.Y.), was named one of 12 finalists for the High School Football Rudy Award after leading her league in interceptions. Shawnee (Springfield, Ohio) kicker Carly Gregory became the first girl in Ohio state history to score in a state championship game when she made two extra points. And Lisa Spangler, a 5-foot-5 sophomore, was the starting middle linebacker for Fort Vancouver (Vancouver, Wash.).

“I never expected to have a girl be my middle linebacker,” Fort Vancouver coach Eric Ollikainen said. “But my job is to get the best 11 on the field, and she’s one of my best.”

Natalie Randolph Leads Coolidge to Title Game in Only Her Second Year

Randolph made news last year when she became only the third woman in history to be named a varsity football coach when she took over at Coolidge (Washington, D.C.).

She proved her future in coaching was bright, having led her squad to the DCIAA championship game this season. And though Coolidge fell to Dunbar (Washington, D.C.) 33-21, the team knows it’s in good hands with Randolph at the helm.

Refs Going too Much by the Book?

In August, refs penalized Alex Schooley of Louisville (Ohio) for excessive celebration after a touchdown when he pointed to the sky to honor his friend, who had died the week before the game in a car accident. Walsh Jesuit (Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio) was able to use the short field position it got from the penalty to drive down for the game-winning field goal.

Then in December, Cathedral (Boston) quarterback Matt Owens scored what appeared to be the game-winning score on a 56-yard touchdown run against Blue Hills (Canton, Mass.) in the Eastern Massachusetts Division 4A Super Bowl. But Owens raised his arm on the way to the end zone, leading refs to call him for unsportsmanlike conduct. The touchdown was negated, the ball was placed at the spot of the foul and Owens threw an interception on the very next play as Blue Hills went on to win the title.

Tanner Mangum and Neal Burcham Break Out

One was a quarterback from Idaho, and the other was a signal-caller from small-town Arkansas with one college offer. But Eagle (Idaho) senior Tanner Mangum and Greenbrier (Ark.) senior Neal Burcham proved this summer that you don’t have to be from a football hotbed to be a star quarterback.

The pair earned co-MVP honors with the nation’s No. 1 QB, Jameis Winston of Hueytown (Ala.), at Elite 11 and proceeded to have dominant senior campaigns. Mangum committed to BYU, while Mangum picked up more scholarship offers before committing to SMU.