Two weeks ago, in the NY Times, sportswriter Jere Longman looked at the IMG Academy HS football program in depth. Started just a couple of years ago, the IMG administration is very upfront about their approach: in short, they are recruiting nationally (except Florida) for the very best HS football players in the country.
And so far, they have succeeded. Their starting QB, Shea Patterson, is considered the nation’s top HS prospect. He’s already won two state championships in Louisiana, and so he figured that he could prepare himself for D-1 football by attending IMG. He plans on graduating this winter, and then enrolling at Ole Miss so he can hit the ground running next fall as a true freshman trying to compete for a starting job.
According to Longman, IMG has about 20 plus top D-1 prospects on its football team this year, so Patterson is not alone in his pursuit of big-time college, and ultimately, professional dreams.
IMG’s facilities, based in Bradenton, FL, is state-of-the-art, complete with a 5,000 seat stadium. Top-level coaches, trainers, and of course, dorms for the students. In a way, this HS is run more like a rigorous college environment: students go to class in the AM, and then four hours of practice and conditioning in the afternoon.
Of course, all of this comes with a price tag — just under $71,000 a year. That’s more expensive than the vast majority of college in this country. Yes, there are financial packages available, but $71,000 is a fairly hefty sum of money.
The IMG Academy, which started out in the 1970s as a training facility for tennis players, has now grown into offering more sports, such as basketball, baseball, soccer, and so on. And they claim that their graduates do indeed go on to play in top college programs all over the country.
The only real drawback so far is finding other teams to play. IMG was allowed to join the Florida HS Athletic Association, but had to promise that they wouldn’t recruit Florida players. IMG is okay with that, but finding opponents is hard. Most public HS teams won’t play them. Some of the better known parochial teams, such as Bergen Catholic, St. Joe’s, and Paramus Catholic, all based in NJ, will play them, but of course, that means a lot of travel time, expenses, and of course, a good chance your team will lose. For example, Bergen Catholic and St. Joe’s have both lost to IMG this season.
IS IMG RIGHT FOR YOUR SON?
That, of course, is the ultimate question. I interviewed Lou Marinelli, the long-time and highly successful head football coach at New Canaan HS in CT, and Lou feels that if your son is good enough, then the college scouts will find him. That is, there’s no need to attend a private HS like IMG to raise your profile.Besides, Lou points out that when you play for an academy team like IMG, you lose out on the fun of playing with your friends and buddies from your community. There’s something to be said about enjoying the local HS experience.
Marinelli, who has won 10 state championships at New Canaan, says that college coaches are well versed these days to find potential prospects. Thanks to the internet and online video, the recruiting job has become that much easier when spotting players.
All this being said, there is no doubt some HS kids who would benefit from the national exposure and coaching at the IMG Academy. But the general consensus seems to be that this kind of elite travel football program is still a work in progress, an experiment that still is playing out. There is the price tag, of course. And finding worthy opponents will continue to be a challenge.
So far this year, the IMG Academy Ascenders – yep, that’s their nickname, is 4-1. Chances are that they will complete the season with no more losses. But the question remains – what happens to them next fall? Will there still be more HS teams who will want to play them?