Indiana loves high school sports and is ranked 17th among the 50 states with the addition of Washington D.C.
But coaches, players, parents and fans always want to know if high school football is growing and gaining on the popularity of basketball in the Hoosier state. This seems to be a sociological question and a lot tougher to measure. In my honest opinion, this isn't the most important question. It doesn't matter if football supplants basketball in popularity. What matters most is the improvement of the qualitative aspects of high school football. Are coaches getting better and are players improving their skill level?
The number of Indiana players signing D1 letters of intent on the first Wednesday of February is proof that players are getting better. In the course of the last 10 years these totals have been kept, and within the last 2 years, these totals have taken a tremendous jump. Indiana players are competing on the nation's largest football stage more than ever before. Ten years ago, anywhere from 18 to 23 players signed annual letters of intent. In 2007, there were 36 players. In 2008, 43 players signed and the expectation is that in 2009 over 50 players will sign national letters of intent.
How is this explained? Somebody discovered more than corn in Indiana. One of those discoveries has been made by recruiters from out of state universities looking for football talent. How do we explain this rise in talent? Obviously, Indiana players are getting better coaching. America's largest summer football camp resides in Indiana (the Bishop and Dullaghan camp). Also, since the Indiana High School Athletic Association does not allow spring practice, 3 spring camps have exploded in growth where football players can go for instruction. Indiana also has one of the most liberal summer participation rules. Coaches can work with their teams in "pro pads" (helmet and shoulder pads) from the first day of summer vacation until the week before two- a-days. They are required to have 1 week completely uninvolved with their team over the 4th of July.
The results are overall improvement in attendance and records broken in the last two years for the high school state football finals. As this is written, the Indiana Football Coaches Association and the Indiana High School Athletic Association are considering adding another class. But the tell tale sign is the current verbal commitment list of the class of 2009. The game is first and foremost about the players, and as football grows in fan popularity, coaching talent and player skill level, it will be measured by the number of players able to extend their days of playing in what many are now calling Indiana's team game.