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Let’s Talk About Underachieving New York State High School Football

Never have so many people produced so little football talent.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The State of New York is bad at high school football. The latest estimates show a population of nearly 8.5 million people in the 5 boroughs of New York City. Obviously, it doesn't take a genius to figure out a cramped urban environment isn't conducive to cultivating a strong football culture from youth through high school ages.

But, New York State is still quite large outside the boroughs both in land and people. Last year Florida officially passed New York in population yet the Empire State is still the 4th largest in the United States.

Suffolk and Nassau counties plus the Hudson Valley are technically part of the New York City metro area but add another 5.2 million people. Western New York (2.5 million), Capital District/Mohawk Valley (1.8 million), and Central New York (1.8 million) bring the non-NYC regions to almost 11 million people in total.


If these areas were their own state they'd be 8th in the country by population ahead of Georgia and just behind Ohio. The comparison is apt for New York's struggles in football since it is so far behind those two states in football production.

Now, take a look at all of the Composite 4-star and above recruits from New York State since 2008:

2015 Tyrone Wheatley, .895- Tight end prospect who signed with his dad's alma mater, Michigan, after poppa became the Wolverines running backs coach. Watched him play football and basketball last year. Eh, not a high ceiling. Bet he's a lumbering blocking tight end for Harbaugh.

2014 Curtis Samuel, .969- Gained 383 yards and scored 6 touchdowns backing up Ezekiel Elliott last year at Ohio State. Shaping up to have a great career.

2014 Thomas Holley, .962- A big target for Notre Dame two cycles ago. Signed with Florida but missed his freshman season with a torn labrum in his hip.

2014 Jay Hayes, .906- Wasn't on the two-deep in his freshman year until injuries caused him to burn his redshirt late in the season for Notre Dame. Shooting for quality backup minutes in 2015.

2013 Josh McNeil, .902- Still has not played college football. Originally committed to Alabama, then LSU, then ended up going the JUCO. Then committed to Florida State but never made it to Tallahassee. Recently arrested several months ago.

2013 Ebenezer Ogundeko, .897- Another ND target who ultimately signed with Clemson. Made 5 tackles as a redshirt freshman, mostly on special teams, before being dismissed this off-season and transferring to Tennessee State.

2012 Jarron Jones, .936- Multi-year starter with 60 career tackles for Notre Dame and working his way into a solid NFL pick.

2012 Chad Kelly, .925- Originally committed to Clemson and was famously thrown out of the Tigers' 2014 spring game. Transferred to JUCO before landing at Ole Miss where he'll battle for the starting spot.

2012 Wayne Morgan, .899- A career backup at Syracuse so far in his career. Missed most of last season with a knee injury and will look to become a starter as a redshirt junior.

2011 Ishaq Williams, .988- Still unclear if he'll play for Notre Dame this fall in his last year of eligibility after missing all of last year with an academic suspension. Just 45 tackles and 5 TFL in his career--could be one of the biggest busts in Irish history.

2010 Dominique Easley, .997- Productive but injury-filled career at Florida. Left early after the 2013 season and was picked late in the 1st round by the Patriots.

2010 DaQuan Jones, .893- Got off to a slow start but had a good senior season at Penn State. Taken in the 4th round by the Titans.

2009 Shayne Skov, .951- Very good college career at Stanford with All Pac-12 honors as a senior and some All-American nominations. Bounced around several practice squads in the NFL last year.

2008 Averin Collier, .910- Disappointing career ended prematurely at Syracuse after leaving school due to academics.

2008 Marcus Sales, .896- Good career with Syracuse finishing with 132 receptions, 1780 yards, and 16 touchdowns.

Yes, a state of nearly 20 million people hasn't even managed to average 2 prospects of 4-star quality for nearly a decade. Just for the current 2016 cycle, Ohio has 11 such prospects while Georgia has 27.

Just to the south where I live is the once-booming Western Pennsylvania recruiting grounds. While the population of Allegheny County peaked in the 1960's and has dropped today by nearly 25%, there are still a solid 4 million people in the entire region. Take a look at the Western PA 4-star recruits or better since 2008:

Miles Sanders, Damar Hamlin, Andrew Pryts, Jordan Whitehead, Saquon Barkley, Sterling Jenkins, Dravon Henry, Alex Bookser, Montae Nicholson, J.J. Cosentino, Shai McKenzie, Chase Winovich, Robert Foster, Dorian Johnson, Patrick Kugler, Tyler Boyd, Damion Terry, Rushel Shell, Greg Garmon, Demetrious Cox, Deaysean Rippy, Adam Bisnowaty, Ben Koyack, Delvon Simmons, Lafayette Pitts, Ejuan Price, Branden Jackson, Desimon Green, Miles, Dieffenbach, Cullen Christian, Paul Jones, Mike Hull, Thomas Ricketts, Dorian Bell, Corey Brown, Todd Thomas, Dan Mason, Brock DeCicco, Terrelle Pryor, Jonathan Baldwin, Lucas Nix, Shayne Hale, Andrew Sweat, Christian Wilson, Chris Burns, Michael Yancich, Cameron Sadler

Certainly it's not modern-day southeast Florida but that list crushed New York, at least in depth, and with less than a quarter of the population.

Even worse for New York, and this happens for all states, but a few players mentioned above didn't grow up in the Empire State. McNeil grew up in North Carolina before transferring to Milford prep school as a senior. Skov grew up in California and also jumped to prep school at Trinity Pawling for his final 3 years of high school. Kelly grew up in York, Pennsylvania but was suspended for parts of his freshman and sophomore seasons prior to fleeing to St. Joe's in Kenmore just outside Buffalo.

I was surfing around looking for info on New Yorkers who played at Notre Dame when I came across Lou Somoygi from Blue Gold Illustrated's All-NY team for the Irish. Out of the 23 listed players, only Anthony Weaver (1998-01) and Ryan Grant (2001-04) came to Notre Dame within the last 35 years. What's more, 12 of the greatest New Yorkers came in the 1957-80 time frame which pretty much lines up with the golden age of Upstate New York and the aftermath of when New York City was one of the centers of college football.

My region in Western New York is generally appalling at producing football talent. It's like the anti-Louisiana and must have among the worst population-to-recruiting ratios in the United States. And we have a NFL team and a sports culture that loves football.

My better half teaches at our county's largest high school (1,500 students, pretty solid solid size from a national perspective) that competes in the highest division in the state. They're currently on a nice run of dominance (38-6 since 2011) and are coming off a state title over Newburgh Free Academy, the second largest school in the entire state. Although, due to certain sectional rules they don't always face a few of the top private schools in the playoffs.

Nevertheless, the school hasn't sent a student-athlete to a FBS football program since 2000, and asking around no one knows when the last kid earned a scholarship to a Power 5 program. Each of the past 2 seasons they've had the Western New York Player of the Year but those athletes went to Edinboro and Princeton to play ball.

Most of the time race and the popularity of other sports are discussed as the main culprits for New York's poor football potential, and for good reason. Basketball remains the king in the boroughs while hockey is popular in Upstate and lacrosse has quickly spread out from Central New York and into the rest of the state, especially Long Island.

Race plays a part too. There are northwards of 400,000 blacks in the Upstate counties north of the Hudson River Valley--not exactly a lot for the I-90 corridor that is nearly 300 miles long. For the record, my wife's school district is almost 92% white. For further comparison, Louisiana has the second most blacks by percentage of any state including almost 1 million within the 80-mile distance between the New Orleans and Baton Rouge metro areas.

There are currently 18 recruits with 4-start status in Louisiana for this cycle.

The Hudson River Valley adds nearly 270,000 African-Americans while Long Island an additional 638,000. You could say there are over 1.3 million blacks outside New York City--which would be equal to roughly the same black populations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan--or you could say there's really under half a million outside the New York metro area-- more similar to Arkansas or Massachusetts.

In a sport that is played by a majority of black players at the college level this helps explain some of New York's struggles--and why a state like Georgia with a nationally leading nearly 3.2 million blacks is exploding as a recruiting hotbed--but I think it still comes back to culture problems.

The lack of a major college football team in the state, and region, must have a crippling effect for New York. Growing up in the sphere of influence of Syracuse, or Buffalo, or Rutgers isn't going to create a community too excited about the high school to college football transition. Meanwhile, Louisiana has LSU as an anchor plus Tulane, Lafayette, La Tech, and Monroe in-state. That's a lot of people sharing the same culture and going to a lot of college teams in state.

And while Catholic schools like Canisius and St. Joe's in Buffalo and Aquinas (home of Jarron & Jamir Jones) and McQuaid Jesuit in Rochester are decent in building quality high school football programs, they could do a better job welcoming and developing inner-city talent. Down in the NYC area you have Catholic powers in New Jersey like Don Bosco and St. Peter's Prep plucking talented New Yorkers away from time to time--like Bosco did with Ryan Grant back in the day--and the New England prep schools sometimes do the same, too.

Even New York's best talent right now in the NFL in Rob Gronkowski risked suspension for his senior season (which was handed down) by transferring from Williamsville North just outside Buffalo to Woodland Hills in Pittsburgh to play against better competition.

Will the state of New York as a whole ever live up to its potential provided by its population? It's unlikely. Far too much change in culture would have to take place just to catch up with the likes of New Jersey and Ohio that ever punching at the level of Florida or Georgia seems impossible.