Cokeville makes top-50 list of small-town teams

The website ranked its top small-town football team for each state, and Cokeville High School represents the Cowboy State. (FILE PHOTO)

There’s something special about growing up in a small town. The traditions. The bonds. The community. And, if you’re lucky, you might mix in a pretty amazing high school football team.

Small towns across America produce some of the best high school football being played anywhere, regardless of population size. All 50 states have small-town gridiron powerhouses that define communities for decades.

So what exactly is a small town? In this case, it’s a town with a population of around 10,000 or less. These are the best small-town high school football programs in every state. And they’re ranked.

50. North Dakota — Velva High School: Longtime Velva High head coach Larry Sandy took the job in 1990 and hasn’t looked back.

Sandy has been on the sideline for nine of Velva’s 10 state championships since, including several when the school was playing as Velva-Sawyer in a co-op with a neighboring community.

49. Montana — Highwood High School: Highwood High won 11 state titles on its own, and its last two, in 2013 and 2014, as a  co-op team with rival Geraldine, although the two teams split up again after the 2018 season.

Highwood owns the state record for most unbeaten seasons with eight and competes in 6-Man football.

Running back Brett Bahnmiller led Highwood to three state championships in 2002, 2004 and 2005 and still owns state 6-Man records for career rushing yards (4,967) and career rushing touchdowns (88).

48. Wyoming — Cokeville High School: Cokeville High owns a staggering 22 state titles. What’s even more amazing is that they’ve won them playing 11-man,  9-man and 6-man football. Wrap your head around that.

They’ve also won at least one state title in every decade since the 1960s, with their most dominant decade being the 1990s, when they won eight titles. Cokeville has always found a way to be dominant. The first state title team, in 1969, averaged 47.6 points per game.

The greatest season for a Cokeville player, ever, may have been utility player Nate Barnes in 2019, when he recorded 151 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, six sacks, six fumble recoveries, two interceptions, 996 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

47. Minnesota — Mahnomen-Waubun High School: In a pretty remarkable twist, Mahnomen won its ninth state title in 2018 in the first year of a co-op with former rival Waubun High, going 13-0 under longtime head coach John Clark.

Running back Jason Miller, who led Mahnomen to three consecutive state championship games and state titles in 1990 and 1991, is still in the state record books at No. 10 for career rushing yards with 5,395.

46. Nebraska — Howells High School: When Mike Speirs took over as head coach at Howells High School in 1996, the program was still three years away from meeting enrollment qualifications to play for Nebraska School Activities Association state championships.

What happened next made history. Speirs and Howells reeled off six consecutive state titles in 8-Man Division I from 2000 to 2005, then added three more from 2008 to 2010 before consolidating to become Howells-Dodge and make the move to 11-man football.

Howell’s six straight state titles are tied for the state record, on any level.

45. Rhode Island — Burrillville High School: Rhode Island hasn’t always handed out state titles the same way, but Burrillville High began winning whatever there was to play for in the late 1930s and kept winning steadily through the late 1970s.

Burrillville had a state championship drought from 1977 to end 2000 but has been flush since then, with six state titles from 2000 to 2017, including three since 2014.

44. Colorado — Limon High School: The long stretch of Interstate 70 that stretches across the plains mostly ends in Limon, one of the eastern-most posts of civilization in Colorado — and also home to a high school football juggernaut.

Limon and coach Lloyd Gaskill earned a reputation in the 1960s and 1970s for having a “hazy” grasp of recruiting rules. They also knew how to get the most of their players on the football field. Limon’s success isn’t just remarkable because their 19 state titles are more than any other school in the state. It’s remarkable for the length of time they’ve been successful.

Limon won its first title in 1933, won six straight from 1963 to 1968, then didn’t win a title from 1979 until 2003, when they reeled off three straight state titles.

43. Oregon — Vale High School: Vale High owns the most state titles in Oregon history with 12. Vale got a big leg up on its state championships with the first four titles coming with either John Wilcox or younger brother Dave Wilcox leading the way.

John Wilcox went on to play in the 1958 Rose Bowl with the University of Oregon and won an NFL championship with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1960.

Dave Wilcox, arguably the greatest high school football player in Oregon history, also played for Oregon, then played 11 seasons in the NFL as an outside linebacker. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

42. Alaska — Soldotna High School: The greatest high school football dynasty in Alaska history resides at Soldotna High, where they’ve won 12 state titles from 2006 to 2019. Before that, they finished as runner-up four times since Alaska began having informal state championships in the 1980s, then made things official in the mid-1990s.

The Stars posted a record 59-game winning streak over five years and has produced four Alaska Gatorade Players of the Year.

Over the last decade, the Stars are an amazing 77-3 and have won eight consecutive state titles dating back to 2012.

41. Connecticut — Woodland Regional High School: Football-barren Connecticut hasn’t seen much distribution of state titles to smaller towns in the state, but one of the few schools that have broken through is Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls.

The Hawks won back-to-back Class S state titles in 2004 and 2005 under former head coach Tim Shea and finished as state runner-up in 2013 under Shea.

40. Massachusetts — Nashoba Regional High School: Massachusetts, for some reason, didn’t go to an actual state championship until 2013, previously parsing out Eastern, Central and Western state titles.

Nashoba Regional High has had success both ways, with five state titles and six state runner-up finishes.

All of those titles have come with either Ken Tucker or his son, Jamie Tucker, at the helm, after Jamie took over for Ken in 2013.

39. Indiana — Sheridan High School: Legendary Sheridan head coach Larry “Bud” Wright has been leading the Blackhawks for over 50 years and has the most career wins (417) and state championships (9) of any high school football coach in Indiana history.

Sheridan High product Brad Maynard became one of the greatest punters in NCAA history at Ball State as a two-time consensus All-American and still holds NFL records for most punts in a Super Bowl, most punts by a rookie and most punting yards by a rookie.

Maynard also led the NFL in punting three times.

38. New Hampshire — Plymouth Regional High School: The argument for the greatest high school football coach in New Hampshire history begins and ends with legendary Plymouth Regional High head coach Chuck Lenahan.

Hired in 1971, he didn’t win a game in his first season but went on to win 19 state championships in 39 years, including 13 unbeaten seasons and two separate win streaks of 57 and 46 games.

Perhaps the greatest single season in Plymouth history belongs to running back Garrett Macomber in 2016, when he rushed for 2,373 yards and 26 touchdowns on the way to a state title.

37. New York — Dobbs Ferry High School: Dobbs Ferry won four straight titles before New York began using a playoff system to determine its state champion in 1988, but they’ve won six titles since then.

The team was also a co-op with local community Hastings until 2000, and they’ve won four titles since then.

Eight of the titles were won by head coach Frank Violante, who is among New York’s career wins leaders.

36. North Carolina — Robbinsville High School: Legendary Robbinsville High coach Bob Colvin still holds the state record with 11 state championships, including five straight from 1979 to 1983 and 12 state titles from 1969 to 1983.

Robbinsville’s population of 620 lines up with some of the smallest towns on this list.

One interesting fact about Robbinsville: Besides its staggering success in high school football, the famous “dam scene” in the 1993 movie “The Fugitive” starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones (where Ford jumps) was filmed at nearby Cheoah Dam.

35. Vermont — Hartford High School: Former coach Mike Stone built a dynasty coming from one of the smaller schools in Vermont’s Division I, including back-to-back undefeated seasons in 2011 and 2012.

Stone won a state title in his first season in 1986, then won four straight from 1990 to 1993 and three straight from 2010 to 2012.

Hartford has been home to five Gatorade Player of the Year winners, including three in the last decade.

34. Maine — Marshwood High School: Former Marshwood High head coach Rod Wotton led the team to six consecutive state titles from 1974 to 1979 as Marshwood won eight state titles in the 1970s. The 1980s were almost as good — seven state titles and a streak of four straight from 1983 to 1986.

Current coach Alex Rotsko has brought back the glory years, with four state titles in nine seasons. Rotsko’s teams have gone 38-2 from 2017 to 19 with two state titles.

Running back/linebacker Justin Bryant won the Fitzpatrick Trophy as the state’s top senior football player after the 2019 season.

33. South Dakota — West Central High School: West Central has 12 state championships, but it’s long been thought that their 1997 team put together one of the greatest seasons in South Dakota prep football history.

That year’s team, with head coach Jim Uttecht and defensive coordinator Kent Mueller, who would eventually take over for Uttecht, went 12-0 with seven shutouts, including all four postseason games.

In all, the defense gave up over eight points just once, in a season-opening 63-24 win over McCook Central.

32. Illinois — Illini West High School: Jim Unruh coached Carthage High School, which eventually became Illini West, for 25 years, making it to 10 state championship games and winning six titles in that stretch. Unruh retired after winning his last state title in 2010 while going 14-0.

The greatest player in Carthage/Illini West history might be all-purpose player Austin Gronewold, who is still in the Top 20 in Illinois state history for career and single-season touchdowns, points, rushing touchdowns, punt return yards, punt return touchdowns and kickoff return touchdowns.

Gronewold went on to become a three-time All-American at NCAA Division II Missouri S&T.

31. Delaware — Delmar High School: Delmar head coach David Hearn has led the program for three decades and won five state championships. He’s also led the Wildcats to state runner-up finishes twice, in 1995 and 1996.

Hearn and Delmar’s greatest success story as a player is tight end Alex Ellis, who played for the University of Tennessee and has been in the NFL since 2016.

Another Delmar player, wide receiver Shane Leatherbury, is also now in the NFL after a standout career playing for Towson.

30. Washington — Royal High School: Willey Allred has won eight state titles as Royal High’s coach, including an unexpected 14-0 season on the way to a championship in 2019, the Knights’ fourth title in five years. He’s also led Royal to state runner-up finishes twice, in 2002 and 2012.

Few players in Washington history can compare to former Royal running back Jeff Jack, the two-time Class 1A Player of the Year, who is still in the state top 10 for career touchdowns, scoring and PATs.

Jack went on to win three Ivy League championships at Penn.

29. Arizona — Blue Ridge High School: The legacy of legendary Blue Ridge head coach Paul Moro stands up against the best high school football coaches in the history of the game.

Moro, who died in January 2019, won a record 13 state championships at Blue Ridge and owns the career record for wins with 336.

Moro’s greatest player was linebacker/running back Jimmy Sprotte, who starred for the University of Arizona and played two seasons in the NFL for the Cincinnati Bengals.

28. Maryland — Urbana High School: Maryland isn’t really a state that lends itself to small-town football success because of its congested population centers, but Urbana High found a way.

Ahead of its time, legendary head coach Dave Carrutthers led Urbana to four consecutive state championships from 1998 to 2001 with an air attack led by quarterback Zack Mills, who threw for almost 6,000 yards in his career and 2,245 yards in 1998, the first year of Urbana’s title run.

Running back Raekwon Gray is still among the state’s career leaders with 5,474 rushing yards.

27. New Mexico — Eunice High School: Eunice High School’s tradition of winning state titles dates back to the 1950s, and the Cardinals have won a championship in every decade since, with the exception of the 1980s.

In a testament to the talent coming out of Eunice, those titles have been won under the leadership of eight different coaches, including three consecutive state titles from 2017 to 19 — a run in which the Cardinals have gone 36-1 and had a 25-game winning streak.

Quarterback Mason Caperton ended his career in 2019 as one of the greatest signal-callers in state history and racked up 51 touchdown passes in his final season.

26. Virginia — Gate City High School: How much do sports mean at Gate City High? Just look up the address of the school. It’s located at 178 Harry Fry Drive, the street named after the school’s legendary football coach.

Gate City’s great tradition of coaching hopes to continue under new coach Jeremy Houseright, the son of former coach Bill Houseright.

Bill Houseright led the Blue Devils to a state championship in 2010, and two of his sons, Jake and Billy, both went on to play for Virginia Tech.

25. Kentucky: Mayfield High School: Mayfield High School has won 12 state titles and finished as state runner-up 11 times, including three consecutive losses in the title game from 2017 to 2019. On top of that, the Cardinals haven’t had a losing season since 1963.

Mayfield won back-to-back titles in the 1970s, won two titles in the 1990s, then won four state titles in the 2010s, including four straight from 2012 to 2015.

Mayfield’s winning percentage over the last decade matches up with anyone in the nation, and they haven’t lost more than two games in a season since 2008.

24. Nevada — Pahranagat Valley High School: Located right next to Area 51 in Alamo, Nevada, tiny Pahranagat Valley High set the national 8-Man record with 104 straight wins from 2008 to 2016.

Pahranagat Valley also holds the record for most state titles on any level, with 21, and former coach Ken Higbee’s 10 state titles are also a record.

Pahranagat Valley’s players dot the career record books for Nevada. Former quarterback Tabor Maxwell is still the state leader for career passing yards (10,073) and is second for career touchdown passes (152).

23. California — Paradise High School: The population of Paradise, California, was just a hair over 26,000, according to the 2010 census. That number now has dropped to an estimated 4,476 after the tragic Camp Fire in 2018 destroyed much of the town.

That’s why the accomplishment of the football team in 2019 is so incredible that a movie is already in the works about the team, based on Bill Plaschke’s book “Paradise Found” about Paradise High’s stunning run to the Northern Section Division III championship game.

Plenty of teams on this list have more wins than Paradise High. Few, if any, have more heart.

22. Utah — Millard High School: Millard High head coach Taft Watts led his program to six state championships from 1950 to 1960, including four straight titles to kick things off between 1950 and 1953.

Watts’ 1958 team still holds the single-game record for defense by giving up just 15 yards against North Sanpete.

No family has helped define Millard’s success more than brothers Aaron Boone, Jason Boone and Jesse Boone. All three played Division I football, then in the pros, with Aaron going on to become a star wide receiver in the Arena Football League.

21. Idaho — Fruitland High School: Fruitland High School has won four of its five state titles in the last 15 years, including three championships in the 2010s. Just adjacent to the Oregon border, Fruitland won its first state title in 1993 before winning again in 2006.

Fruitland has produced a steady stream of college football talent for quite some time, but none more significant than offensive tackle Jordan Gross, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft.

Gross, a six-time Pro Bowl pick, started all 167 games he played over 11 NFL seasons.

20. West Virginia — Bluefield High School: Bluefield High alum Fred Simon became head coach in 1986 and has led the program to five state championships. His stewardship of the program meant that Bluefield now has won a state title in seven consecutive decades dating back to the 1950s.

In an unfortunate bit of irony, arguably the program’s greatest player never won a state championship. Linebacker Yubrenal Isabelle was a three-time All-State selection in the mid-1990s who starred at the University of Virginia and then played several seasons in NFL Europe.

19. Kansas: Smith Center High School: The epic story of the Smith Center High School football program was chronicled in the book, “Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains” by Joe Drape, which ended up on The New York Times bestseller list.

Today, the high school stands on Roger Barta Way, a street named after its famous head coach, who was named National Coach of the Year in 2007. Smith Center’s 79-game win streak from 2004 to 2009 is one of the longest in national history.

Linebacker Mark Simoneau was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American in 1999 at Kansas State, then played 11 seasons in the NFL.

18. Iowa — Harlan High School: Longtime Harlan High head coach Curt Bladt has won 11 of the school’s record 12 state titles. Bladt was an assistant coach at Harlan for 10 seasons before he became head coach in 1978 and is one of the winningest coaches in the nation.

Harlan won three state titles in the 1980s, then won four state titles in the 1990s and 2000s.

NFL All-Pro kicker Billy Cundiff was also the quarterback on the 1997 state championship team and the only Harlan product to make an NFL roster, so far.

17. Ohio — Marion Local High School: Marion Local High tied Cleveland St. Ignatius for the most state titles in Ohio history with its 11th state title in 2019.

That total is even more impressive considering Marion Local didn’t win its first state title until 2000. And all of those state titles have come under the guidance of one coach, Tim Goodwin, who took over in 1999.

If you want to know the secret to Marion Local’s success, start with defense. The Flyers have produced four Ohio Division VI Defensive Player of the Year winners, including Jacob Kunkler, who won the award twice.

16. Wisconsin — Arrowhead High School: Legendary head coach Tom Taraska guided Arrowhead High to the state championship game nine times in 29 seasons, winning four state titles.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Arrowhead’s stable of future NFL players is mainly made up of offensive and defensive lineman — and the latest one to come through that pipeline might be the greatest.

University of Michigan junior offensive guard Ben Bredeson started three years for the Wolverines, was a two-time All-Big Ten selection and was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL draft.

15. Georgia — Lincoln County High School: Larry Campbell coached Lincoln County for 41 seasons, from 1972 to 2012, racking up an astonishing 470 career victories and 11 state titles, including eight unbeaten seasons.

Campbell won state titles in each of the first four decades he coached in and finished as state runner-up four times.

The greatest player to come out of Lincoln County was running back Garrison Hearst, a Heisman Trophy finalist who starred at the University of Georgia, played 10 seasons in the NFL and was twice named NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

14. Louisiana — Haynesville High School: Tiny Haynesville High School is a football juggernaut with 17 state titles and nine state runner-up finishes. Legendary coach Alton “Red” Franklin won 11 state championships and was named Louisiana Coach of the Year four times in his tenure.

One family — the Evans — have helped define Haynesville football. Demetric Evans played nine seasons in the NFL. Doug Evans played 11 seasons in the NFL and started for the Packers in their Super Bowl win in 1996. Bobby Ray Evans played nine years in the CFL.

The latest and greatest member of the family, Joseph Evans, won a national championship in his first year at LSU in 2019.

13. Arkansas: Greenwood High School: Longtime head coach Rick Jones built a football dynasty at Greenwood High School in 16 seasons, winning eight state championships before departing for a job as a consultant with the University of Missouri football program in 2020.

Jones’ eight state titles are tied for second among Arkansas high school coaches. One of his best players was quarterback Tyler Wilson.

Wilson led Greenwood to back-to-back state titles, then went on to star at the University of Arkansas and played briefly in the NFL.

12. Alabama — Hazlewood High School: Even though Hazlewood High School closed in 2010, it still tops the state of Alabama for most high school football state championships with 11.

That amazing run started in 1970, and in a testament to the program’s greatness, the football team won at least one state title in every decade until the school closed.

The greatest run came from 1988 to 1992, when Hazlewood won five consecutive state titles and produced its greatest player, Antonio Langham, who helped lead the University of Alabama to the 1992 national title and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back in 1993.

11. South Carolina — James F. Byrnes High School: Byrnes High was open for 20 years before it won its first state championship in 1976 — the first of three over the next decade.

After a 16-year wait for its next title, Byrnes won eight state championships from 2002 to 2011. The first four came under Bobby Bentley and the last four under Chris Miller, who only coached from 2007 to 2012.

In 2009, Byrnes opened the season as the No. 1 team in the nation but missed out on a state title.

Byrnes’ greatest player was one of the most sought-after recruits in history — running back Marcus Lattimore — who seemed like a surefire first-round NFL draft pick until he suffered a gruesome knee injury while playing for the University of South Carolina in 2012.

10. Michigan — St. Mary’s Preparatory: Legendary St. Mary’s Prep coach George Porritt has won seven state championships in 30 years as head coach and made it to the state championship game six more times in that stretch. His best run came in the 2010s, with four state titles, including three in a row from 2014 to 2016.

Perhaps the greatest player in St. Mary’s history is current Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson, a two-time All-Big Ten pick at Penn State who led the NFL in receiving touchdowns in 2015.

9. Mississippi — South Panola High School: How good is the talent being funneled into South Panola High? Three different coaches have won state titles.

Even though South Panola won a national title in 2010, it would be hard to take top billing away from the 1993 team as the greatest in school history. That squad, coached by Willis Wright, went 15-0 for the first state title in school history behind future NFL players Dwyane Rudd and Deshea Townsend.

Rudd was an NFL All-Pro in 1998, and Townsend won two Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

8. Oklahoma — Clinton High School: Clinton High’s 16 state titles are second among all Oklahoma schools behind only Ada High’s 18 titles, with the last nine of those coming under the tenure of Hall of Fame coach Mike Lee.

The first two state championships for Clinton came in 1965 and 1967 and featured arguably the greatest player in program history, running back Roy Bell. Running alongside brother Carlos Bell in the backfield, Roy is still in the Oklahoma record books with 6,000 career rushing yards.

He also won a Grey Cup with the Edmonton Eskimos and was a two-time CFL All-Star.

7. Hawaii — Kahuku High School: Kahuku, Hawaii, is located on the famous North Shore of Oahu, one of the most beautiful places on earth. The Kahuku High School Red Raiders have won eight state championships in football and played in the championship game 12 times, which are both state records.

Kahuku has produced a steady stream of Division I and NFL talent the last 20 years, most notably longtime New Orleans Saints offensive lineman Chris Naeole, who played 11 seasons in the NFL after an All-American career at the University of Colorado in the mid-1990s.

6. Florida — Pahokee High School: Perhaps the greatest small-town high school football program on this list, Pahokee has won six state championships under three different head coaches. It’s proof of the talent in this tiny town that’s known for being surrounded by sugarcane fields.

In the last five years, the biggest story coming out of Pahokee was when it was forced to vacate its seventh state title, in 2017, for the use of an ineligible player.

Pahokee’s greatest player, hands-down, is Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Rickey Jackson, a five-time NFL All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler.

5. Tennessee — Alcoa High School: The two longest state championship streaks in Tennessee history belong to Alcoa High — seven consecutive titles from 2004 to 2010 and five consecutive from 2015 to 2019.

Alcoa High head coach Gary Rankin is the state’s career leader with 410 wins and has won 14 state titles, including 10 since taking over at Alcoa in 2005.

Wide receiver Randall Cobb is arguably Alcoa’s greatest player. The former Tennessee Mr. Football has played 10 seasons in the NFL and was a Pro Bowl pick in 2014.

4. Missouri — Webb City High School: John Roderique, Webb City High’s head coach since 1997, has won 11 of the school’s 15 state titles.

Roderique starred at linebacker for Webb City in the early 1980s, then played college football at NCAA Division II power Pittsburg State for future University of Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill, who led Webb City to a state title as head coach in 1989.

Roderique’s son, John, quarterbacked Webb City to state titles in 2011 and 2012.

The school’s greatest player is undoubtedly defensive end Grant Wistrom, a three-time national champion and two-time All-American at the University of Nebraska and the No. 6 overall pick in the 1998 NFL draft by the St. Louis Rams.

3. New Jersey — Saint Joseph Regional High School: In New Jersey, schools compete for “group” and “section” titles although the state is working toward actual state championships.

That being said, whatever title New Jersey schools play for, Saint Joseph has won 19 of them dating back to 1987 while competing on the “non-public” level, with 17 of those coming under legendary head coach Tony Karcich.

The title of greatest player in Saint Joseph’s history falls on the shoulders of New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty, a three-time Super Bowl champion, three-time NFL All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowler.

2. Pennsylvania — Southern Columbia Area High School: Jim Roth has been the head coach at Southern Columbia Area High since 1984 and on the sideline for all 10 of the school’s state championships.

Southern Columbia was on a  48-game winning streak headed into the 2020 season after going 16-0 for three consecutive years.

The school’s best player might be its latest star, Ohio State wide receiver Julian Fleming, who graduated in 2020 with the Pennsylvania state records for career yards (5,481) and receiving touchdowns (78) and was second all-time with 256 career receptions.

1. Texas — Aledo High School: Tiny Aledo is home to the greatest high school football dynasty in Texas history, which means it’s also home to one of the greatest high school football dynasties in the entire country.

The Bearcats have won a record nine state titles, with eight of those coming in 11 seasons from 2009 to 2019. An opposing parent famously filed bullying charges with the school district after a 91-0 loss to Aledo in 2013.

Aledo’s de facto greatest player has been Johnathan Gray, who rushed for over 10,000 yards in just over three seasons, won three state titles from 2009 to 2011, and went on to play for the University of Texas.