Anyone who hasever been to a high school football game knows the feeling. It's more than asport you're there to watch. You're there to be part of something. It's tribal.Much more than the college game or the NFL, high school football definescommunities across the U.S., even as it gives us a look at the players who'llbe gracing larger stages in the near future. Most important, high schoolfootball is just plain fun--more sophisticated than in years past, to be sure,but still, for the most part, a sport that helps young athletes find out whothey are. They care, and you can see that clearly from the stands--or, better,while standing on the sideline. Ask anyone who ever played.
It's notsurprising that this fall two new television shows--an MTV reality seriescalled Two-a-Days and NBC's Friday Night Lights, a drama spun off from themovie and book of the same name--will ride the excitement of high schoolfootball. Nor was it shocking to Sports Illustrated staff writer Lars Andersonthat when he was interviewed by a Birmingham TV crew while reporting thisweek's story on Hoover (Ala.) High (page 56), the station led the nightly newswith its report on the Buccaneers. "They take their football seriously inthose parts," says Anderson. Which is one reason Hoover (the subject ofTwo-a-Days) is No. 1 in SI's preseason rankings.
Starting with the12-page football preview in this issue, the magazine--which launched a highschool section on SI.com in April--will devote at least a hundred pages a yearto high school sports. SI.com senior editor B.J. Schecter worked on this week'spackage with the staff of RISE magazine (formerly SchoolSports), the country'sleading authority on high school athletics. RISE editors Jon Segal and RobBodenburg, and senior writer Jon Mahoney, will spend the entire year talking tocoaches and players and keeping track of more than 10,000 programs; theirunique knowledge of high school sports is reflected in this week's coverage,which includes SI's rankings as well as guides to breakout players and keymatchups. "To know this side of sports is to love it," says Schecter."And once you do, you'll never think of back-to-school time as a bad thingagain."
Douglas Brinkley,a professor of history at Tulane, is the author of The Great Deluge, acritically acclaimed book about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. In thisweek's SCORECARD section (page 20) Brinkley looks at the way Saints rookierunning back Reggie Bush has been embraced by the still-reeling city of NewOrleans, and how Bush has responded by doing what he can to help outfinancially and to keep hope alive. Brinkley sees the start of the NFL seasonas a pivotal moment in the recovery. "August 29th marks the one-yearanniversary of Katrina," he writes. "[But] September 25th, the Saintshome opener, is the official rebirth of the city."
THE PREP SQUAD Segal (left), Bodenburg and Mahoney study high school sports year-round.
GREG PEARSON/THE SHREVEPORT TIMES/AP