Why teams leave the state for games

Marty Lee is a Florida preparation football icon with more than 170 career head coach wins at the start of his 25th season at First Coast High School in Jacksonville.

“I don’t want to play cupcakes,” Lee said.

Dakota Ridge High School, located nearly 1,500 miles from Littleton, is far from a cupcake. The Eagles will travel to Florida next week for a Week 1 game against First Coast. Friday night, in the muggy summer heat of the southeast, state pride is on the line.

“Sure, that plays a role,” said Dakota Ridge senior Dante Capolungo. “(Florida) ranks much higher than us in all areas of the sport. I feel like a lot of people sleep in Colorado. Going out there is like a way to prove ourselves.

An increasing number of Front Range football programs are leaving Colorado to play early season games. At least seven top-tier teams are crossing state lines this year in a continued move away from traditional non-league programming.

Cherry Creek, the two-time reigning 5A State Champion, plays in Arizona (Chandler HS) and Columbine travels to Las Vegas (Faith Lutheran HS). Valor Christian visits California (Oaks Christian) and hosts a Washington Power Plant (Eastside Catholic). However, most Colorado teams flock to the Sunshine State if they leave Mile High Country.

There are four local programs – Dakota Ridge, Greeley West, Ralston Valley and Smoky Hill – scheduled to face teams from Florida in the regular season until early September. It is not a coincidence. The state is widely regarded as one of the best breeding grounds in the country for football talent.

Florida has produced the most five-star leads in the country (59) in the past decade, by MaxPreps, throughout the 2021 recruiting cycle. Colorado teams are sometimes overwhelmed.

Monarch played an exhibition game in Deltona, Fla. On Thursday night against University (Orange City) High School. Visitors were excluded, 34-0, both teams playing JV in the second half.

Yet Colorado’s football programs are not about to back down from competition.

“In my opinion, the quality of training in Colorado trumps the quality of training in Florida,” longtime Dakota Ridge coach Ron Woitalewicz said ahead of his team’s fifth game in Florida since 2012. “They could have more talented kids or more kids. But there is nothing to take away from the coaching that is going on in the state of Colorado. Every team that goes down there is well trained. You can say.

“I would love to have guys on some of the teams we play with. No doubt about it. “

The Colorado-Florida connection is often made possible through a service called Saudi Arabia Events. It is essentially a national preparatory sports travel agency that provides all-inclusive experiences for teams to play competitions out of state.

KSA provides a list of potential opponents, a hospitality site, flights and hotel rooms, meals and entertainment passes. It costs around $ 1,800 / person, Woitalewicz said, with players fundraising in various ways to pay for their trips.

“We have had a long relationship with Colorado schools for 20 years now,” said KSA vice president Todd Hayes.

Dakota Ridge has the undivided attention of its Florida peers. Lee and the First Coast players recently gathered to watch highlights from last season’s Eagles movie. Dakota Ridge collectively dominated its first seven opponents, 384-69, before falling in the semifinals of Class 4A.

“They realized that we play a strong team,” said Lee. “They don’t play duck.”

First Coast has a proud tradition with 13 winning seasons dating back to 2003 and a host of national rookies. However, the Buccaneers have slipped in recent years, without a record of victories since 2014. They play in the Florida second division (7A).

Lee believes getting back to the top starts with testing his team against the best available opponents. Dakota Ridge fits this description. The Eagles are 2-2 in their last four games in Florida.

“It shows you that there is great talent in the state of Colorado,” Lee said. “They always hear how great Florida is and what a hotbed of talent. I know they are motivated to come here and fight us.


A schedule breakdown for when Colorado’s high school football teams face out-of-state opponents this season.

26 AUG – Greeley West to Belen Jesuit (Florida) *
27 AUG – Dakota Ridge in First Coast (Florida) *
SEPTEMBER 2 – Ralston Valley in Freedom (Florida) *
SEPTEMBER 3 – Valor Christian in Oaks Christian (California) and Smoky Hill in Windermere (Florida) *
SEPTEMBER 9 – Columbine to Faith Lutheran (Las Vegas)
SEPTEMBER 10 – Cherry Creek in Chandler (Arizona) and Eastside Catholic (Wash.) In Valor Christian

* Game played at Austin-Tindall Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.

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