CFB Recruiting Atlas: The Top High Schools for FBS Talent
The third post in the CFB Recruiting Atlas series. Find the first one, on Southern California's Trinity League here. My examination of Miami's District 16 is here. As in the earlier posts, the data utilized here was provided to me by Aaron Mulhollen, a doctoral candidate in Geography at George Mason University. It was sourced originally from the 24/7 Sports Composite recruiting rankings database, then scrubbed and enhanced with additional data by both Aaron and me. Aaron can be found on Twitter @CFBGeographer.
The Top Talent Producers Nationally
Following college football religiously and football recruiting at least casually for the past 30 years, I already had a pretty good awareness of some of the top national factories for players I have watched on Saturdays. Names like Long Beach Poly, Cincinnati Moeller, Southlake Carroll, and Miami Central came to mind immediately. But human impressions are often inaccurate or at least incomplete. Data, compiled carefully, is much less so.
In order to answer the question of which high schools have produced the most FBS talent over the past 15 years, I filtered my recruiting database to provide the top high schools in terms of FBS (excluding the service academies) LOIs from 2004-2017. I excluded boarding prep schools, as they are really in a separate category altogether. Finally, I had to manually add the 2018 numbers for the top schools, which was time consuming and not especially fun.
Presented below are the top 23 high schools based on my methodology. Why 23? No special reason, other than the fact I had to manually update many more than that in order to make sure some school lurking further down the list hadn't vaulted up based on a strong 2018 recruiting cycle. And there are lots of schools that produced between 40 and 50 recruits through 2017. So the cut-off was somewhat arbitrary, but I placed it where I felt fairly sure that I wasn't excluding any school that deserved to be on the list.
A few things stand out about this data. First, the sheer volume of recruits that St. Thomas Aquinas has produced is astounding (see Spotlight section, below). Even as somebody who lives about as far from South Florida as is possible in the Continental US, I was certainly aware of the program and that it produced a lot of players. But I had no idea it was close to lapping the second school on the list. Second, I found it somewhat surprising that public schools actually dominated this list. I would have expected private schools to be better represented. Finally, it is notable that schools in the Top 4 talent producing states (Florida, Texas, California, and Georgia) make up the vast majority (18 of 23) slots on the list.
Spotlight: St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Some might debate it, but it would not be a stretch to call St. Thomas Aquinas the most storied high school football program in Florida. Although its state title total (10) trails Jacksonville's Bolles School by one, Aquinas holds numerous playoff tournament records, including most consecutive appearances, most games played, and most games won.
Additionally, over the past 10 years it has finished in the Top 10 of MaxPrep's national high school poll four times and in the Top 50 seven times.
During that span, Aquinas won almost 90% of its games, while playing rugged schedules that included a number of match-ups with top teams from outside Florida. It speaks to the program's stature that 2017 could be termed a disappointment after a loss by a touchdown to Venice in a 7A semi-final game.
Of course a high school program can't pile up accomplishments like that without having a lot of really good players. The chart below shows the number of recruits by season, categorized by consensus Star ranking, per 24/7 Sports Composite. The numbers here are really staggering, though they skew more towards good college prospects, rather than elite ones.
Looking forward, Aquinas has another strong class on tap for 2019. Currently there are 15 ranked prospects in the 2019 class and two unranked ones that have received offers.
While the majority of Aquinas' recruits have not been highly ranked, that isn't to say that the program hasn't produced some elite prospects. Below are the Blue Chip recruits that the program has produced over the past 15 years, plus those in the current class of rising Seniors (2019). As in all of my work, I define "Blue Chips" as recruits with a 24/7 Composite Rating of 87.5 and up. This is slightly more inclusive than looking at just consensus 4- and 5-star players, but makes sense to me because it corresponds with the Top 15% of recruits nationally in terms of rating and because essentially every recruit with a Rating in that range has been ranked as a 4-star by at least one recruiting service.
Clearly Aquinas produces both mass quantities of prospects and high quality ones too. A couple things really stand out here. First, the number of Blue Chips is going up over time, which suggests high potential players are flocking to the program, which is pretty typical for top private high school programs. Second, of the 16 Blue Chip recruits from 2004-2013, 12 of them (as in seventy five percent) have made NFL rosters. That is just a baffling number.
Top Producers of Highly Ranked Talent
While looking at sheer quantity of recruits is one interesting way to slice the data, another useful analysis is looking at which schools produce players that are judged to be the most talented by recruiting services and (presumably) by FBS programs.
This analysis only includes 14 recruiting cycles and ends with the 2017 class. It isn't feasible to do a manual update of 2018 for an analysis this broad and detailed. In order to exclude skew due to small sample sizes, I only included high school programs that have produced 30 or more FBS recruits over the period of study. Unranked recruits are assigned zero stars, but for the Rating metric I assigned them a score of 60.
That cut off resulted in an almost round total of 101 high schools. The top schools are shown on the table below, if you are interested in the full list, it is available here. The average class rating over the full sample of 101 schools was 82.0 (with a standard deviation of 1.6) and the average star rating was 2.9 (with a standard deviation of slightly under 0.2).
Unlike in the quantity analysis, where public schools in talent-rich areas dominated, private schools account for six of the top seven spots in average recruit rating/ranking. This is unsurprising, as private schools clearly go out of their way to recruit strong players (either openly, or unofficially) and the families of top players also often choose schools based on the strength of their football programs.
Spotlight: Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, CA)
Oaks Christian is a private school located in Northwestern Los Angeles County in the town of Westlake Village, which is just across the Los Angeles-Ventura County line from the much larger and better known Thousand Oaks. Oaks Christian is a fairly new school, founded in 2000, and therefore doesn't have a long football history.
Despite the lack of history, Oaks Christian has become a formidable competitor in the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section, winning the CIF Southern Section Division 2 championship in 2017.
Oaks Christian's ranking at the top of the average recruit rating list is due to production of very few recruits ranked below 3 stars and a significant number of recruits ranked above 3 stars (see table below).
Nearly half of Oaks Christian's recruits from 2004-2017 were in my Blue Chip category (carrying a 24/7 Composite rating of 87.5 or higher), as shown in the table below.
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