Washington, D.C., had zero high school football players in the Rivals250 in four of the five years between 2006-10. Our nation's capital ranked 36th among all states (considered a state for the purpose of this article) with three total Rivals250 recruits during that period.
Since 2011 the District of Columbia has 15 such prospects, or 27th among all states. The nine-spot improvement over the last eight classes ranks second nationally and is largely a result of a strong football investment by schools.
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Marvin Austin was the seventh-ranked player in the 2007 class. The five-star defensive tackle from Ballou High School was one of three Washington, D.C., players in the Rivals250 (Arrelious Benn and Tony Tucker). However, D.C. had zero such players in 2006, 2008, 2009 or 2010, but has at least one top recruit each year since 2011.
"There is more football being played in D.C. than there ever has been," says Jacob Bogage of the Washington Post. "Five years ago, there were 12 high school football teams. There are now 25. That's an investment mostly being made by the city and school system to create more athletic opportunities. And it's not just football. They're trying to get schools to add lacrosse programs and other sports. Football has just been the most popular."
Interactive Map: Cities With Most CFB Recruits
Interactive Map: States With Most CFB Recruits
Washington, D.C., is one of three states who've seen a jump of at least eight spots in their ranking of total Rivals250 recruits from 2011-18 vs. 2006-10. Nevada ranks first with a difference of 11 (No. 34, 2006-10; No. 23, 2011-17), largely thanks to Bishop Gorman High School (Las Vegas), who has accounted for 12 of the state's 17 total Rivals250 recruits since 2011, or 71 percent. No Washington, D.C., school has more than 33 percent of its total recruits (Friendship Collegiate Academy has five of 15).
Just behind D.C. is Tennessee. The Volunteer State never had more than eight Rivals250 recruits between 2006-16 but has nine in both in the 2017 and 2018 classes, giving them an eight-spot difference between 2006-10 (No. 18) and 2011-18 (No. 10).
"The quality of athletes looking at football [in D.C.] as their main option has gone up," says Bogage. "Basketball has been the sport here for a really long time and slowly there were a couple guys who had success in college playing football. All of a sudden high school football programs — with the investment D.C. public schools have made — are looking more attractive."
There has also been an investment from private schools, thanks to mega donors like Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, a graduate of St. John's College High School, whom he gave $16 million in 2015.
"Kevin has poured resources into the athletic department," adds Bogage. "They have openly said they want to be IMG [Academy] of the northeast. As they continue pouring resources into the football program, they're getting higher recruits. The starting quarterback is a kid named Kevin Doyle, who lives outside Philadelphia and was looking for a school where he could start his senior season. He chose St. John's out of a national search and is now committed to Michigan.
While Doyle isn't a Rivals250 recruit, St. John's has produced four top-250 players since 2011, including 2017 prospects Kasim Hill and Calvin Ashley, who are now at Maryland and Auburn, respectively.
The investment comes during a time of declining participation rates in many parts of the country. The number of high school students playing football grew from 1998-2009 but has since declined, according to a study conducted by University of Colorado professor Roger Peilke. During the 2008-09 academic year, 1.14 million high school boys played football. That number dipped to 1.09 million in 2016-17, while the percentage of age-eligible boys playing football also declined, from 13.2 percent in 2012-2013 to 12.7 percent in 2016-2017.
"We're at the cusp of an inflection point," Pielke said. "It's really hard to talk about the long term or bigger significance of a trend, but after two decades of steady, uninterrupted increase, it is notable that the numbers started going down."
While football programs at D.C. schools like St. John's and H.D. Woodson are doing well, the declining participation rates recently hit nearby Centennial High School in Elliott City, Md., who announced in August that they were disbanding their program because of a "lack of sufficient players and concern for student safety." Despite Centennial's move, Bogage does not expect a dramatic change in the landscape of D.C.-area high school football.
"The population here is young enough and there have always been enough kids that you never really struggle to fill rosters [at public schools]," he said. "I go to the suburbs for some of my coverage and ask if [roster] numbers are up or down. Generally speaking the numbers in the suburbs are a little down. In D.C, it's up. The investment the city made in high school football is paying off in participation"
And that participation is leading to more top-end college football recruits, many of whom, like Kevin Doyle, came to the nation's capital for an opportunity.