Rajan Nanavati, Editor and Founder of Hail To The District
If you were constructing a proverbial “Mount Rushmore” of states that produce the most football talent within its borders, you would unquestionably have to include the state of Florida right alongside High School football powerhouses like Texas, California, and Louisiana.
With a rich talent for high school and college football, even the smallest towns in Florida are a hotbed for future football stars.
Here are some of the best small-town high school football programs in Florida:
Blountstown High School (Blountstown, FL) – Blountstown High School has been one of the most powerful football programs in the Florida panhandle for over a decade. The town of somewhere around 2,500 people, located in between Tallahassee and Panama City, saw its namesake High School boast a 102-42 record, with 11 state playoff appearances, over the last 12 years. The school reached the 1A state championship game twice in the last five years (2013 and 2017), losing both times. However, the future of the school is now somewhat in question, as head coach and athletic director Greg Jordan is stepping down from his position(s), leaving his alma mater as his children have also concluded their playing days at the school as well.
Pahokee High School (Pahokee, FL) – One of the state’s most storied programs, Pahokee High School picked up its seventh state crown this past December. Despite being located in a town with just over 6,000 residents, Pahokee High School has sent over a dozen players into the NFL. In an area that’s colloquially known as “The Muck,” named for it’s rich soil that made it one of the largest sources of sugarcane in the United States, Pahokee High School, and nearby Belle Glade High School are said to have one of the fiercest rivalries in not only the state of Florida but in High School football in general.
J.W. Mitchell High School (New Port Richey, FL) — The Mustangs of J.W. Mitchell High School are coming off another highly successful campaign, going unbeaten in the regular season, winning their district championship, and advancing past the first game of the state playoffs. Located right on the Gulf Coast of Florida, northwest of Tampa Bay, Mitchell is one of the top football programs in smaller Florida towns (defined as having a population of fewer than 20,000 people). Head coach Andy Schmitz, who’s not even 40 years old yet, took a team that was simply happy to make the postseason into a program that believes it can compete for state championships.
Wakulla High School (Crawfordville, FL) — Crawfordville, Florida, nestled right on the footsteps of some of Florida’s largest national parks and wildlife refuges in the panhandle, has a population of fewer than 4,000 people. But as you’d expect from a state like Florida, it’s still rich in football talent. Take Wakulla High School, for example. Head coach Scott Klees continues to put out players into the top college football programs in the nation, with schools all over the country coming to the area to recruit. And they don’t just top out at going to college; Wakulla High School alum Nigel Bradham is a current linebacker with the Super Bowl-winning Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL.
Vero Beach High School (Vero Beach, FL) — Many sports fans across the nation have probably heard of Vero Beach, Florida, despite the fact that the town has a population of fewer than 17,000 people. That’s because the town used to hold Spring Training practices for the Los Angeles Dodgers. But locally, the town’s pride and joy is the Fighting Indians of Vero Beach High School. The team has gone undefeated over the past four seasons, thanks to the leadership provided by head coach Lenny Jankowski. Last season, the Fighting Indians were one of the favorites to make it to the “Final Four” of Florida’s 8A football championship but got upset in the regional semifinals.
Baker County High School (Glen St. Mary, FL) — Glen St. Mary, Florida is the shining definition of small town America, with a population of fewer than 500 people, which has remained about the same for years. But sitting right off I-10 on the way to Jacksonville lies one of the most successful football programs in the state, in Baker County High School. Ranked among the top 30 high school teams in the entire state, Baker County advanced all the way to the Class 5A state championship football game last season, before getting defeated in said game by mighty American Heritage, one of the best football programs in the state. Baker County head coach Jamie Rodgers took the Wildcats past the second round of the playoffs for the first time in school history last year. After the school lost its opening game of the season, they would go on to win the next 13 straight games, before suffering their final defeat.
Madison County High School (Madison, FL) – The reigning winners of the Class 1A state football championship, the Cowboys of Madison County High School was an absolute powerhouse for much of the 2017 season. This past season, they beat 10 playoff teams, nine from higher classifications, in the regular season, and defeated another school on this list (Pahokee High School) along the way as well. With less than 3,000 residents in the town of Madison, located just over the border with Georgia, Madison County will have to replace a lot of seniors who were instrumental in the team’s championship run, but still has a quarterback who has committed to play for the Florida State Seminoles after he graduates high school.
Cocoa High School (Cocoa, FL) — Don’t let the delicious name or pristine beaches fool you: Cocoa Beach High School is one of the premier football programs in the state of Florida, with four state championships to its name, and finishing with a top-25 ranking in the state six times in the past decade. Located about an hour south of Orlando, with a population of just over 18,000 people, there’s a noticeable buzz around town about the school, as it named Ryan Schneider — the former offensive coordinator for state titan St. Thomas Aquinas — as its head coach this year. Having led his former employer to back-to-back state championships, expectations will be sky-high in Cocoa.
Armwood High School (Seffner, FL) — How good was Armwood High School last year? The first time the team allowed their opponent to score more than 12 points against them didn’t come until just before Thanksgiving when the Hawks were playing in the third game of the Florida Class 6A football championship tournament. Armwood High’s football team is perhaps the pride and joy of Seffner, Florida, the suburb of Tampa with less than 8,000 residents. But don’t let the small town status fool you; Armwood has been ranked among the top 25 programs in the state of Florida every single year for the past decade.
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