Earlier this season, the Venice High School football team took on Bradenton’s IMG Academy, currently ranked No. 3 in the nation.
The Indians lost, 46-7.
Just last week Venice hosted St. Frances, a powerhouse team out of Baltimore ranked No. 6 in the nation, and lost 49-7.
Of course, the Indians responded with decisive victories (44-0 over St. Petersburg and 49-6 over Lakewood Ranch) immediately after both losses.
I point this out not to question Venice coach John Peacock. He has been very successful and knows his program and players far better than I ever could.
But Peacock is hardly the only coach setting up this type of scheduling. I also saw it at my previous stop in Daytona Beach, where local powerhouse Mainland High School played a somewhat similar slate of games. But in both cases, we’re talking about veteran coaches of highly successful programs.
The argument for this type of scheduling is, of course, that playing these type of games and scheduling higher level opponents tests your players and prepares them for tougher opponents down the road.
In the case of Venice, that down the road is represented by St. Thomas Aquinas, currently ranked No. 5.
“It gets us ready for St. Thomas,” said Peacock. “We’re facing two teams that recruit nationally and get the best players, so basically at every position they’re going against a 3- to 5-star player, exactly like St. Thomas.”
Despite the lopsided losses, Peacock believes that scheduling these teams is necessary to make a run at a title.
“We have to learn how to play with those teams and that’s where I want to get this program where we can compete with anyone,” he said. “You can’t just expect to wake up and do that. You have to play those teams and learn the speed of the game and how it’s played.
“I think if you do that, you have a much greater chance of winning one of these games.”
All of that makes sense for a coach as successful as Peacock and a program as disciplined as Venice. But what about those coaches who are mistaken in their belief that their team is ready to handle a higher level of competition?
And what about those programs, and they are out there, that haven’t properly prepared these 15- and 16-year-old kids to be dominated, both physically and mentally, two or three times a year. Yes, football is a tough game, but some kids just aren’t ready to walk on the field knowing they have no chance to even compete.
“It’s a fine balance between making sure you have confidence going into a certain game and being prepared for teams you’re going to see in the playoffs,” said DeSoto County coach Bumper Hay. “Teenage kids have a fine psyche. They can go up or down quickly.”
So where does that leave us? Yes, scheduling a ranked team can have benefits, but you need to make sure your team is prepared to handle that.