Two Amazing Decades

Two Decades of Dominance Meets Two Decades of USA-Today High School AA Team -- A perfect marriage it ain't!

Ever Since Howard Schnellenberger created the "State of South Florida" (DADE, BROWARD AND PALM BEACH COUNTIES AND ANYTHING BELOW for the few of you who aren't in the know), the recruiting philosophy at Miami has essentially continued on -- "Keep the ones we want from our Backyard in our Backyard..." -- A much younger (although he's aged remarkably well) Schnellenberger stated to his staff and the administration when explaining what was to become his recruiting mantra when he embarked on his ambitious, brilliant, and yet incredibly simplistic plan some twenty years ago, as he explained at a dinner just a few weeks back, "...And we will have a National Title caliber team every year". Once he sold the administration of the University on his philosophy, it became increasing clear to the University that our objective was not the equivalent of other schools wishing to contend. For the other schools who believed that they were (or should have been) perennial contenders for the National Title were sold on the idea of exclusively going after the marquee names anywhere they existed in the country, so when a young newspaper that was trying to carve a niche for itself by carrying national news and sports with articles that took no longer to read than the average visit to the bathroom was created, it didn't take readers of that newfangled paper "The USA Today" ... [which was given five years tops as a fad before it folded in a bet between the then-owner of the New York Times and George Steinbrenner -- needless to say, not only did Steinbrenner win but he also collected: free Yankee season ticket advertising in the Times for a year] ... to become accustomed to getting their news quickly.

While the paper was in its infancy, it decided two decades ago that they would dedicate one page in the sports page to local sporting news in all fifty states. It was a novel idea, but the typeset (what we would now refer to as font) was too small for most readers and they eventually learned that Floridians didn't care about who won the girls 6-on-6 regional basketball championship in Iowa, so that page was first modified and later abandoned (although not until the early 1990s -- 92 to be exact -- and still resurrected several times a year for the naming of the All-State teams in various sports), but the idea to cover High Caliber High School Sports at the National level was still very much alive. They were just looking for an angle. So in 1982 the angle was born and The USA Today premiered their inaugural top twenty Nationwide high school football and basketball teams as well as premiering a primitive version of the first USA Today HS All-America Football team.

This was at a time when the Internet was still primarily a Department of Defense tool for use in case of Nuclear Winter and at a time when the little amount of publicity regarding recruiting was virtually non-existent -- incredibly scarce when it could be found at all. Ergo when the USA Today published its' first set of High School Football All-America's, it was basically compiled by high school coaches submitting names of Candidates that they believed were good enough to play collegiately, and the names were then whittled down by six regional offices who in all probability had never even heard of virtually any of the names on their list (surviving the cut was little more than a crapshoot), and those lists were then subsequently turned in to the National Office, who whittled the list down again (and again the powers that be still knew little to nothing at all other than a stat sheet if they were lucky when choosing who to give the ax to and who to keep under consideration), making sure all the while that all six regions were as evenly represented as possible.

Still, when most recruiting coordinators caught wind of this (for the few college staffs who even had an assistant with such a title in addition to their regular coaching assignments) "All USA Today team", they considered this USA Today list as The Holy Grail, particularly because what had become known as The Fifty State Page (now completely defunct except for the naming of All-State Teams) which would publish the All-State players who were usually compiled by each state's biggest newspaper (whose sports department also had to play political football to make sure the state was equally represented by county as opposed to truly choosing the best eleven on each side of the ball), and this is where the majority of schools found the bulk -- if not the bread and butter -- of their recruiting classes back then.

Without giving you a more detailed history lesson, it is clear from what is described above that Miami would be in competition for very few of the so-called All Americas because we --Schnellenberger and Staff -- knew there was more talent down in "The State of South Florida" alone then there were USA Today All Americans, Schnellenberger recalled at the recent dinner at which he spoke, that there was "...No doubt in my mind that my 'State of South Florida' All-Stars would destroy this USA Today All America team if the two were we ever to line up nose to nose on the grid iron".

Obviously, in the USA Today teams' infancy, Notre Dame had a built in advantage and thus an unprecedented run on these first team USA Today All Americas due to the school's national prominence, built in Irish Catholic fan base, and its infamous subway alumni. So it comes as no surprise that even now, twenty years after the original USA Today All America team was named, Notre Dame has more than double the number of USA Today All Americas compared to the penultimate finisher (and ND rival and nemesis), The University of Southern California. Although other schools are rising rapidly to catch them, and if you count the second- and third-teamers introduced in the sixth and eighth years of the team respectively, there are some schools that are only a handful of players behind, The USA Today All America Team (first team only) has sent 44 players to play for The Irish versus 21 players to play for the Trojans.

Even today, although the level of sophistication with which the team is compiled has increased exponentially, it is still written within their credo that the search for the best players needs to be tempered by a more noble purpose of representing a cross section of the United States. Former USA Today employees who worked on the project as recently as three years ago have told me under the condition that I maintain their anonymity that there is even an unwritten quota percentage of black to white players that the staffers are pressured to come as close as possible to meeting. I was told that a senior staffer who worked on the project at the same time as my both of my two sources that his (or her) boss told him point blank: "...It will be a cold day in hell before we release a 'USA TODAY' {italics used to show emphasis in senior staffer's vocal intonation} All-America team without a single white player on it!" Each source independently verified the statement! To do the best I could to verify my anonymous sources' information although both are incredibly honest people and neither left the paper under less than ideal circumstances, I went back and looked at the Basketball first, second, and third teams -- as both of my sources also worked on this project as well. In a sport dominated by minorities, in every single case since they added the second and third teams there has been at least one Caucasian on at the least the second or third team (talk about tokenism), My former USA Today Employees who told me about the quotas also told me that the second and third teams were added in basketball for the sole purpose of trying everything possible so as not to have a high school All America team with fifteen minorities and without a white player represented. The same sources said similar thinking was a contributing factor in football as the second and third teams were added in large part (but not solely) to avoid the unspeakable -- first twenty-two, then forty-four, and now ultimately sixty-six players and not a white among them. Of course so far it has yet to happen and never will, but players have also been bumped up and down as many as two teams in an effort to keep an All USA Today football team that represents the "melting pot" of which this country is a symbol (Although I sincerely doubt our forefathers were thinking of a situation like this when they asked: " Give us your weak...Give us your sick...Give us your poor"). It hasn't happened yet, and it will never happen because they will always find either a white kicker or quarterback to throw on to the third team in what was jokingly referred to around the office as "the doomsday scenario". Well, we now know the true meaning of "the doomsday scenario" after September 11th and it sure as heck ain't sixty-six minorities making up the first, second, and third string USA Today All America High School Football team. Although unlikely, you may someday see sixty-six blacks taken straight as the first two rounds plus of the NFL draft, but you will still never see all three units of The USA Today HS All America football team filled only with minorities because Hell isn't freezing over any time soon.

Interestingly, despite the fact that Miami's recruiting philosophy conflicts sharply with the way that the USA All America Team is chosen, we have still managed to more than hold our own. Our first USA Today All America (we are talking for the remainder of first team only) was good ol' Alonzo Highsmith of Columbus High back in 1982 (and an unofficial 20th child to Mama Irvin growing up) which was the very first year the team was named. We then hit a six year drought until the flood of 1988's High School senior and you have to reluctantly give Coach Erickson credit as he was able to hold on to Jesse Armstead of Carter High in Dallas, Texas, who showed up as a safety and not only a USA Today All America but also The USA Today Defensive Player of the Year. Fellow first team All America and fellow Dallas Texan from Roosevelt High Kevin Williams arrived after his final season at Roosevelt High complete with his 'Don't mess with Texas' Vanity plates, fuzzy dice, and all on his white convertible Mustang with Oklahoma Plates (to this day I can't figure why so many of the late eighties players had cars with Oklahoma registrations, it couldn't have been an old friend of Jimmy Johnson who sold all those cars at Sticker Price and not a penny below, do you think?). Finally, we scored the trifecta by keeping local product and USA Today All America OL Rudy Barber from Carol City who had a solid, productive career as a 'Cane, but was the most highly coveted O-Lineman in the country that year and turned out to be something of a surprise when he didn't become more of an impact player nor did he meet the expectations of the so-called pundits as Mel Kiper had this kid as a five star player in his book when he was only a freshman. Leap ahead to 1990, and the Miami D-Line tradition continued as we landed USA Today All America and the top rated Senior Tackle in the country in Pat Riley out of Archbishop Shaw in Marrero, Louisiana. He had the unfortunate timing of arriving at Miami at the same time as a lightly heralded tight end recruit who wasn't all anything from Apopka, FL by the name of ... Sapp. The USA Today HS All-Americas of 1991 featured another Texas standout in Ceasar O'Neal who died tragically after arriving on campus at Miami that next fall without ever participating in a football game. The big fella fell ill shortly after arriving, all his vital organs shut down, and he died shortly after leaving the team for medical reasons. Jump ahead to 1992 and Jammi German from Fort Myers showed up not only as a USA Today All America but also as The USA Today Defensive Player of the Year. All though a great D-Back in his own right, his future always was on the offensive side of the ball but USA Today had to make way for the anointed one, The Second Coming, and there was no way that USA Today was not going to name future hall-of-famer (forgive me God, for I too am Catholic -- thus fallible -- but here I have to Jest ... I just have to) QB Ron Powlus the Offensive Player of the Year when Coach Holtz named him the ND starter on the day he signed his letter of intent. He is still plugging away on his name alone and was a Back Up (3rd String) to Good ol' team player Bryan Fortay (2nd String) for the same NFL EUROPE team whose starting QB I have NEVER heard of. "Isn't it ironic? Don't You Think"...break into Alanis Morrisette.

After that, probation took its toll and we have to Jump ahead to 98, where once again we landed USA Today All America and consensus number one offensive line product Vernon Carey, who had a stellar career at Miami Northwestern and who is going to have an enormous impact due to some key injuries in the Rose Bowl. You go Vernon, and keep giving me those scoops. The class of 1999 gave us a record third USA Today Defensive Player of the year as DJ Williams has a stellar year and would have been named to both sides of the ball (as a RB) but they don't allow it so he was a USA Today All America as an LB out of De La Salle High School in Cali, who incidentally just won their 125th game in a row (and they travel the country looking for competition) and were named 2001 HS National Champions, having thrashed cross county Rivals Poly in the California finals. Poly, no slouch themselves, finished third in the nation despite having a loss. The 2000 USA Today All America high schoolers included 2 signees to UM, Antrel Rolle of Homestead and Leon Williams of Brooklyn (first UM'er out of Brooklyn since RB Stevie McGwire and LB Rob Bass), and interestingly neither redshirted this year. The 2001 USA Today All America class was named yesterday, and although no verbals, 2 are stongly considering Miami, DB Pat Watkins of Tallahassee Lincoln who could slip away from Tallahassee if Bobby Bowden takes him for granted as right now he says it could go either way, and Ryan Moore of Dr. Phillips in Orlando, a lanky WR at 6-4 out of the Reggie Wayne mold who says he is leaning towards Miami, particularly if we will let him play two sports (Top 25 basketball recruit), if not, I am likely writing about a future Gator. Our basketball team's success this year will also play a determining factor -- so far so good.

Interestingly, they also took the Liberty of Naming an All Time USA Today HS Football team, which they say is based mostly on what you did as a prep but they are taking college and pro achievement into the mix as well. We are represented by the final round draft pick of a seven round Draft in Jesse Armstead on the All Time HS USA Today All America Team. Also interesting is that since the team has been instituted Miami will be playing for its fifth National Title in Seven Chances come January 3rd while the 2 schools who have signed the most All-Americas have a combined one National Title in that same time period.

Scott Martineau is a freelance writer, if you know anyone that can use his work, contact him at SMARTIN780@AOL.COM

Canes Time Top Stories