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How to build a high school football powerhouse

The undefeated Skyline Spartans face Puyallup Saturday night as state high school football championship games begin. Skyline has the top quarterback in the country with Max Browne. (Photo by Jim Nicholson)

What makes one high school football team so much better than another? Does it all come down to money, with parents writing checks?

As teams head into state playoff games, I talked with the coach of the undefeated Skyline High School Spartans about what it takes to build a powerhouse program.

“The kids grow up wearing Spartan heads. They have replica jerseys that look just like ours,” says Coach Mat Taylor. “Friday night, drive around on the Plateau here and you’ll see, easily, a couple hundred kids with a Spartan jersey on.”

Taylor has been Skyline football’s head coach for five years. He grew up in the area, played high school football on the Eastside, and now Spartan football is his life.

For many parents, it’s their lives too.

“We’ve created a culture here where Friday nights aren’t just about the kids, it’s about the parents coming together too,” says Taylor. “We do so many activities, like team dinner, where it’s not the parents writing a check and going and buying a bunch of Buca di Beppo or Taco Bell. Families are getting together and preparing the meal.”

Parents watch DVDs of the games and “re-live” the experience over and over, he says.

“It really helps when the kids see their parents being involved and see all effort and time they put into them,” says Taylor.

Skyline’s program is a young one, only around since 1997 with six state championships already.

Creating a successful football program is more about the culture – which starts at a very young age for players and families – than it is about the current team.

710 ESPN’s Brock Huard, a former Husky and former Seahawk, says the sport today is much different than when he was playing high school football in Puyallup.

“They’ve got kids that start at 6, 7, 8 years old in their feeder programs and it is a machine,” Huard says. “The investment they make at a young age, all the way through, running the same system, doing the same drills, working towards that same goal of winning state championship after state championship is what they’re about.”

“This is a higher achieving area,” adds Coach Taylor. “The families take education, and life in general, more seriously and they have high expectations. Whatever it is you do, you put your best foot forward.”

Skyline Quarterback Max Browne is putting his best arm forward, on the verge of setting a new state passing record.

Spartan number 4 is considered the number 1 high school quarterback in the country.

Taylor has known Browne since he was a toddler.

“It’s been awesome to see him mature and develop,” says the coach. “He may end up breaking the passing record in the state this year if all goes well. But the records you won’t see is the impact he has left in this school – his leadership and how well he carries himself academically in the school.”

Browne is already committed to USC. For his family, all the time and money they’ve put into football has paid off.

For others, a state high school championship will be the peak, and end, of their playing careers. Are parents spending too much time and money on high school sports?

Huard has a 9-year-old daughter who’s into basketball.

“My wife and I have these conversations of how much do you put on her and how much time do you want to spend on this? She could do clinics every day, right?” says Huard.

“I don’t think football is alone in that by any stretch. I think that is a much broader question for parents regarding their commitment, their finances and sometimes their unfortunate, delusional ways of thinking their kid is going to be the next Tiger Woods and will get a full ride scholarship and all this stuff at the end of the rainbow.”

Friday night, 32 high school football teams begin chasing the rainbow that ends at the Tacoma Dome with the state championship games the first weekend in December.

Bellevue High School, which Huard calls the “best team in the state by far,” plays its first Class 3A game against Lincoln.

4A Skyline faces Puyallup at home Saturday night.

By LINDA THOMAS Better luck next year to my school, the Ballard Beavers

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