As high school football fans look over the schedules, it is becoming more and more common to see games scheduled against out-of-state competition.
This season, representatives from the Beehive State are scheduled to play teams from all over the country. There is a game pitting Northridge against Crespi, Calif,, and Box Elder is going all the way across the country to visit West Oaks Academy, Fla. Kamehameha, Hawaii, is coming to Utah, and Jordan is representing the state by playing Massillon, Ohio, at the Kirk Herbstreit Ohio vs. USA Challenge.
"I am not sure there are any glaring advantages or disadvantages," said Davis coach Ryan Bishop, whose team plays Kamehameha this season and who in 2005 took his Darts over to the Hawaiian islands. "It is just a fun and exciting thing to get a chance to play a quality team, or take a whole group of kids on an adventure like we did. I know that for a lot of the guys on the team that went to Hawaii, that will be a memory they will have for the rest of their lives."
Sometimes the games come out of necessity. It is much closer for the schools in southern Utah to make a trip to play in Las Vegas than it is to come north. Or it is easier for some small schools like Rich to play some teams from Wyoming than to find comparable competition in Utah. Alta, the 2007 5A state champions, had some scheduling conflicts that ended up with the Hawks having two games against California teams last year.
"We had two open dates thanks to a cancellation, and we couldn't find anyone in-state that would play us," said Alta coach Les Hamilton. "We are playing Grant again this year in Sacramento basically because we owe them a game.
"It is not like it has been a bad thing, though," he added. "It has been great to get to know the guys from the other team and see them mix with our players. They get a chance for a cultural experience and to see some diversity in their lives."
Alta has enjoyed its trips out of state as well. Hamilton said that it was a win over a good Washington team in Husky stadium a couple of years ago that helped propel the team to the state title game. The Hawks have even made more plans to travel as they have a verbal commitment to go to the same Herbstreit tournament next season that Jordan is attending this year, and they are planning on a Texas trip for a similar event in 2010.
Jordan playing Valdosta, Ga., for two years is one of the main reasons the Beetdiggers were invited to the prestigious Herbstreit event. Not only was it a good football experience, but educational as well.
"It was great because the guys got to learn outside the classroom," 'Diggers coach Alex Jacobson said. "We actually went to where Martin Luther King Jr. was doing his thing and see things you just can't get from reading a textbook."
Of course, there is also the football side of it. Utah probably doesn't get the respect it deserves nationally. There may not be as much depth here, but that does not mean the athletes can't compete.
"Our kids want that challenge to see how they stack up," said Northridge coach Eric Thompson. "We might not have as many kids go on to play college. But I feel like we have more kids who play hard and are disciplined and get after it. Often times that can neutralize the talent difference and you can win games.
"It's neat for the state to show this state has a great brand of football," he added. "As a coach you want to see how they respond to someone faster, bigger and stronger coming after them. Are they going to fight back and battle and become a better team?"
Overall, Utah has accounted itself very well in these contests. Rarely does a team not compete, and more often than not, the team from the 45th state of the union comes out on top.
"To us, it showed our kids, and we already knew this, but kids in Utah play great football," said Mountain Crest coach Mark Wootton of his Mustangs' game against a California team in 2006. "Verbum Dei went on to win their league and didn't lose another game until the end of the year. They had several D1 kids. We didn't have one, and won the game."
Whether it is Rich playing Kemmerer, Wyo., or Bingham playing Kahuku, Hawaii, American Fork versus Mater Dei, Calif., or Dixie versus Bishop Gorman, Nev., the game remains the same. It is still two teams competing for a common goal. Sometimes, it just may take a little longer for one of the teams to reach it.