After spending his 11-year Hall of Fame career with the Dallas Cowboys, Michael Irvin could call Texas home. So was the native Floridian and star at the University of Miami torn when Miami Northwestern travelled to Dallas' top-ranked Southlake Carroll High School last season, with national bragging rights on the line?
It was no contest.
Irvin's allegiance to Florida is just one example of how deeply connected players are to where they grow up, where they first put on a helmet and pads, and where they had their first taste of success.
With an increasing number of high school football coaches crossing state lines to find new competition, the game has gained the country's interest. What was once a must-see event for local communities on Friday night has become must-see TV for national audiences.
Next month's matchup between ESPN RISE Fab 50 powers Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.), currently ranked No. 6, and No. 3 De La Salle (Concord, Calif.), is just one of the many games showcasing the best two states have to offer. (Watch the game Sept. 27 at 10:30 p.m. on ESPNU.)
But one game between two elite teams won't end any discussion that involves state pride. That's why, to kick off the launch of ESPN RISE.com, we're enlisting your help.
The Great State Debate poses a simple question: What state has the best high school football? ESPN RISE's editors have narrowed the field to eight teams, based on a number of criteria, including the number of NFL players the state has produced and how its teams have fared in the national rankings. Our elite eight:
No. 1 Texas
No. 2 Florida
No. 3 California
No. 4 Ohio
No. 5 Pennsylvania
No. 6 Georgia
No. 7 Louisiana
No. 8 Virginia
That's where our work ends -- and the debate begins. We've made arguments for the teams selected. It's up to you to make a case for your state -- by voting, sounding off on conversation pages and posting blogs. Think we messed up and left your state out? Let us know.
The voting begins on Monday, Sept. 1, when underdog Virginia takes on top-seeded Texas. But the debate begins today.
(1) Texas (8) Virginia (5) Pennsylvania (4) Ohio (3) California (6) Georgia (2) Florida (7) Louisiana