Las Vegas Sun

October 16, 2017

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On the road again: Local football teams playing more national opponents

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L.E. Baskow

Bishop Gorman players celebrate their win over St. John Bosco 34-31 on Friday, September 26, 2014.

The Bishop Gorman High football program was having a hard time finding local teams to play in nonleague games. So, they looked out of state.

First, it was a quick drive into Utah to play a school from St. George. Next, it was a team from Arizona. A few years later, the Gaels had built a dynasty and were playing games against teams from all over the nation on ESPN.

Last season, Bishop Gorman went 5-0 against out-of-state opponents for its third straight mythical national championship. But the Gaels didn’t have the biggest out-of-state win for a Nevada school.

Liberty took that honor with its 21-14 upset win over Westlake, the top ranked team in Texas.

Other Las Vegas schools are starting to follow suit in scheduling out-of-state opponents, with coaches saying those games help draw college recruiting attention to their players and exposes them to the experience of travel they otherwise wouldn’t get. Plus, there’s nothing like a long bus ride to help with team bonding.

“You’d be surprised how many kids haven’t been out of town, so it’s an opportunity for them to go out of town with their friends, away from their parents, stay in a hotel and be responsible for themselves is a big deal,” said Green Valley coach Brian Castro, who’s team will head to Lake Forrest, Calif., to take on El Toro High School.

Seven schools are traveling outside Nevada for games this season — Bishop Gorman, Liberty, Faith Lutheran, Canyon Springs, Green Valley, Desert Pines and Las Vegas.

“I think the mystique is to go play somebody out of town,” Castro said. “A lot of people think there isn’t great football here in Las Vegas and if you get an opportunity to go out of state and play your best, you can earn a little bit of respect.”

Faith Lutheran will test itself against some of the best, taking on Valor Christian (the No. 1 ranked team in Colorado) and St. Pius X (the No. 28 ranked team in Texas). Liberty is traveling to Florida to play nationally respected American Heritage, and opens the season next week by hosting Saguaro, a top Arizona school. Gorman opens the season against DeMatha of Maryland on ESPN, and also has games against a who’s who of other schools — California’s Mater Dei and De La Salle, and Miami Central of Florida.

“We aren’t ducking anyone,” Faith Lutheran coach Vernon Fox said. “We are trying to play the best competition because we want not only to be one of the best teams in Nevada, but ultimately at some point to be considered nationally.”

Last season, Faith Lutheran hosted St. Pius X, and traveled to Hawaii to face Kaimuki High School.

“Those are things that were unheard of when I was in high school,” said Fox, a Cimarron-Memorial graduate who and played eight seasons in the NFL. “I think it helps a lot. When you look at the teams we are playing against and the players they have, these are kids that are highly recruited that are going to some of the best schools in the country. You know there will be some exposure on our guys as well.”

The trend of playing out-of-state opponents has spread from Bishop Gorman, Faith Lutheran and Liberty to other less-established football programs looking to make their mark.

Bonanza and Desert Oasis will both host teams from California this year and Canyon Springs takes on St. Augustine of San Diego before hosting Clayton High of California two weeks later.

In total, Southern Nevada schools will play 18 games against out-of-state opponents.

“We like to match up and see where we line up with teams across the country,” Canyon Springs coach Gus McNair said. “These guys are up for the challenge. It’s going to get bigger each year for us.”

Jesse Granger can be reached at 702-259-8814 or jesse.granger@lasvegassun.com. Follow Jesse on Twitter at twitter.com/JesseGranger_.