Does national exposure matter?
Ultimately, who knows?
But this much is known to both Hamilton and Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) high schools, who meet Saturday night in Flagstaff for the fifth version of the Barry Sollenberger Classic:
The winner can still be part of the outside pundits’ conversations.
The loser will hear crickets.
Internally, however, both high school football powerhouse schools can only tangibly measure what’s going to be a long season for each by in-state standards. National talk and rankings may not amount to the paper or web pages they’re printed on, but there are also reasons why Bishop Gorman will also play national powerhouse De La Salle (California) and Del Oro (California) before the end of September.
“What better test is there?” Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez said.
“It’s great to have people talking and see what you’re doing, but at the end of the day it’s about winning a state championship. That’s first and foremost. That would be silly to win a national title because that’s pure speculation. But we play to win every game.”
Hamilton is the two-time defending champions in 5A Division I. And Saturday’s game is nothing new; the Huskies have played premier teams in Miami and Ohio the past four years.
"Every season is a process and reaching the final destination, and you want to get to the end playing at your best,” Hamilton coach Steve Belles said when the Huskies began full-squad practices. “We’re going to find out pretty quickly how far and long this journey is going to take us.”
Bishop Gorman is the defending state champion in Nevada at the 4A level (their highest classification) and narrowly lost to Brophy two years ago in this Kickoff Classic.
Both teams went undefeated last season, but Bishop Gorman put up at least 40 points in 12 of its 15 games, and never scored fewer than 31 all season.
Both have flirted with national accolades, each plans to show the other why, and both teams’ preseason strengths align with the other.
Led by Christian Westerman Jr. (committed to Texas) and Tyler Johnstone (Oregon), the Huskies return three starting offensive linemen from last year, and have two others who’ve been in the program all four years. In addition, they’ve added John Archuleta, whose family moved to Chandler from Green Valley, Nev. (Bishop Gorman has seen him before).
It’s touted as the best front line in Arizona, averaging close to 6-foot-3, 260 pounds.
Emphasis on “in Arizona,” because Bishop Gorman has junior Ronnie Stanley (6-6, 285) who’s drawing attention from BCS schools for football and basketball; junior Ron Scoggins is 6-5, 310; and the Gaels average 6-3, 285 pounds up front.
The Gaels ran for 3,800 yards last year, or 8.5 per carry. Sophomore quarterback Jarrett Solomon (2,108 yards, 20 TD, 5 INT as freshman) and Shaquille Powell (135 carries, 1,555 yards, 29 TD) are back.
Both sides have impact defenders, Hamilton with defensive tackle Shaq Jenkins, linebacker Tyler Rutt and a secondary with Malcolm Holland, Robert Milus and Cedric Parker.
Defense is a project for Bishop Gorman because of graduations, but the Gaels still have Jalen Grimble, a 6-4, 260-pound defensive end and cousin of current USC lineman David Grimble. Jalen has also committed to the Trojans after most SEC and Pac-10 schools offered. He’ll often line up across from either Westerman and Johnstone.
Hamilton began practice in late July while Bishop Gorman didn’t start until nearly two weeks later, and Sanchez noted a season that starts three weeks before the NFL begins likely lends itself to lots of physical and mental mistakes.
“It’s going to be a huge test right out of the gate,” Belles said. “But it’s a long season, you know. We’re planning on playing 15 games, and teams which stay even and have tunnel vision will come out on top most of the time.”