Emmitt Smith. Deacon Jones. Michael Irvin. Ted Hendricks. Larry Little. Jack Youngblood.
Pro football royalty? Yes. Hall of Famers, or soon to be? Yes.
What do these players and dozens of others all have in common? They are all from the state of Florida.
No disrespect to the other football hotbeds of California, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, but Florida's got your number on this one. The state of Florida consistently turns out player after player, year after year, from high schools to colleges, and colleges to the NFL.
What makes Florida any different? Why the obsession with Florida players?
The high schools have talent. Since USA Today began ranking teams in the Super 25, Florida has placed at least one school in the final Super 25 every year. Florida high schools turn out so many college players that after the Big Three take their picks, there are plenty of players for the rest of the nation to choose from.
There is so much talent in the state of Florida that there even is an uprising from the small three of the Florida colleges (UCF, USF, and FAU). USF was ranked No. 2 at one point last season.
The colleges have talent. The big three colleges in Florida (UF, FSU, Miami) have won nine National Championships in the last 25 years, or about one every three seasons. USF was ranked No. 2 at one point last season. UCF and FAU were solid last season in their respective conferences
What makes the players in Florida so different from the rest of the country?
It gets warm in other parts of the country, but not like this—it's hot year round. The joke about Florida is that it only has two seasons: Summer and January.
The heat is unbearable in the summertime, when the temperature gets above 90 degrees on a near-daily basis. The only thing that makes it worse is the humidity. The air is so thick and stale from the humidity, it can be hard to breathe. When the breeze blows, it doesn't cool anything off—it only shifts the heat around.
Now, try to play football here. Remember, this is the state where Gatorade was invented to replenish fluid loss.
Florida is a pretty flat state. When they issue hurricane warnings and say, "If you live in a low-lying area, evacuate now," and you pull out your driver's license and it says Florida on it, you live in a low-lying area.
Florida has sandy beaches, farmland, swamps, and the famous black muck of Belle Glade for football players to work in, play on, and live near year round. Belle Glade Central High School has turned out Fred Taylor, Reidel Anthony, Brad Banks, and Santonio Holmes among its players.
When players in other parts of the country are snowed in, Florida players are getting in their work in the sugar cane fields of South Florida and on the farms of Central Florida, building their bodies year round. When football season rolls around, they're in prime shape.
Football in Florida is a year-round sport. Spring football bleeds into summer workouts, which bleeds into two-a-days, then into the actual season, and finally into offseason workouts right before starting over again. These players play against each other often times from pee wee right into college football.
Competition breeds both intensity and hostility. Look at the FIU-Miami brawl from a couple of years ago. Say what you want about thugs and lack of coaches' control, but these are all kids who know each other. They all grew up together, played either together or against each other for years, and all chose colleges together.
The Miami players were the elite, an elite program with years of tradition, while FIU was a newer program. Miami gets the better recruits, while FIU's players were just the leftover recruits that Miami had passed over.
There is fast, and then there is Florida fast. Noel Devine fast. Chris Rainey fast. C.J. Spiller fast. Deion Sanders fast. Devin Hester fast. Explosive speed that is both game-breaking and hard to defend.
Tom Osborne didn't win a national championship until he recruited some Florida speed. Tommie Frazier of Bradenton propelled the Cornhuskers to two straight championships, beating both Miami and Florida in the process.
Ohio State couldn't keep up with Florida, much like the Nebraska teams of old couldn't keep up with the Florida States and Miamis of the world. You can't teach speed, and you can't defend speed—but you sure can recruit it.
So pack your bags and take the trip down to the Sunshine State, but skip Disney World and Shamu. There is better entertainment on football fields throughout the state.
But don't blink—you might miss the next great player from the state of Florida.