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September 21, 2011
Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
When Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas hosts Concord (Calif.) De La Salle this Friday night in the first-ever meeting of two of the most heralded high school programs, it will be more than just a game - it will be an event discussed and dissected for years.
For fans who have debated the strengths of the two programs - not to mention, the strength of the two states - it's a dream come true.
Players and coaches have refused to get caught up in the historical implications of this matchup. But even they know there's no escaping the modern-day reality of the game: National championships aren't won in September, but they sure can be lost.
Is it any wonder the game, televised nationally by ESPN, is the RivalsHigh Game of the Week.
"The national title talk has already begun (at De La Salle)," Lorenzo Harris, editor of NorCalPreps.com, said. "But it will certainly intensify with a win over Aquinas."
Both teams enter the game at 2-0 and comfortably inside the Top Ten of the RivalsHigh 100.
St. Thomas Aquinas, 2-0, is ranked No. 4 in this week's RivalsHigh 100. De La Salle, also 2-0, is at No. 8.
Reaching the top is the goal. Aquinas star linebacker Brian Cox Jr., said as much after his team opened the season with a victory over then-No. 1 Prattville (Ala.) High. De La Salle quarterback Bart Houston talked about national titles last January, during the Army All-American junior combine.
Of course, you can't talk long about either program before the subject of national championships comes up.
De La Salle was one of the first national powers, recognized as national champions seven times from 1994-2003 - a period in which it had an incredible 151-game winning streak.
History, however, won't determine the outcome of this one. The teams will.
De La Salle is led by Houston on offense and linebacker Michael Barton on defense.
The team had a scare earlier in the season, beating Northern California rival San Jose (Calif.) Bellarmine Prep in double overtime. And while some may see that as a negative, Harris sees it another way.
"(The Bellarmine game) certainly was a wakeup call," Harris said. "But (Coach Bob) Ladouceur is masterful at using these types of games as motivation."
St. Thomas Aquinas held on to defeat preseason-No. 1 Prattville (Ala.) High, 34-31, to open its season, then blanked then-nationally ranked Weston (Fla.) Cypress Bay, 42-0.
FlaVarsity.com publisher Steve Berrey thinks Aquinas benefited from the close call, too.
"I think the nerves were gone for the second game," he said. "Look for those same teams this Friday, although the lights will be brighter."
While Cox and Jelani Hamilton lead the defense, new quarterback Max Lescano is emerging as the leader of the offense.
The teams may argue this is only one game and not make or break for the season. And since the game won't impact either's chance at a state title, that is correct.
These schools, however, are about more than just state titles. The game is hardly just another matchup on the schedule.
"It is widely believed that California football is down this year," Harris said. "A De La Salle win could change that perception."
St. Thomas Aquinas can alter a different type of perception.
"To Florida fans this is a chance to play a national power in our own backyard," Berrey said. "Not having to go to Ohio, Texas, or California.
"It's time for Florida to be hosting some of these games; to showcase the teams that never get invited to out-of-state events."
This game will serve as a showcase for two of the top programs in the land.