Why Here? Why Not?
Prime time players, small-town atmosphere made Sulphur Springs the perfect choice for ESPN2
By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY, Special to the News-Telegram
Sept. 7,2008 - An estimated 72,000 high school football games will be played across the nation this season, yet less than two dozen are deemed worthy of national exposure from ESPN its sister stations ESPN2 and ESPNU.
So why - and how - did ESPN2 pick Sulphur Springs and Wichita Falls Rider as the subjects for one of its highly-anticipated broadcasts?
An ESPN2 entourage will broadcast the SSHS-Rider game from Gerald Prim Stadium at 8 p.m. this coming Thursday, Sept. 11. Rider is ranked No. 2 in the state in Class 4A, but there are teams rated higher -- most notably in Class 5A -- and the Wichita Falls school doesn't even crack ESPN's ranking of the top 50 schools in the nation. Sulphur Springs isn't even ranked in the state's top 10, never mind in the nation.
Which brings us back to the original quandary: Why Sulphur Springs?
The answers are below:
Q: Why broadcast the game between Sulphur Springs and Rider?
A: ESPN, like most networks, favors teams that have explosive offenses and can rack up points. That describes these two teams in a nutshell. Rider averaged 41 points per game in 2007 while Sulphur Springs put up about 38 points per game. The Wildcats also averaged over 450 yards of total offense.
But that's only part of the equation. TV also likes premier quarterbacks, and Sulphur Springs and Rider have those, too. One popular recruiting service ranked SSHS senior Tyrik Rollison (6-3, 185) as the No. 2 dual-threat (running and passing) QB in the nation and No. 2 in the state after he threw for 3,666 yards and 37 TDs and ran for 548 yards and seven more touchdowns.
Rider senior Shavodrick Beaver (6-4, 200) is also highly talented. He is the No. 3-ranked quarterback in the state after he passed for 2,602 yards and 31 TDs last year. Beaver has already verbally committed to the University of Michigan.
Throw in some high-profile position players like Rider running back Jurrell Thompson (TCU) and wide receiver Eric Ward (Oklahoma) along with SSHS defensive end Colton Nash, running back Ryan Young and receiver Jace Jackson, all of whom are Div. I prospects, and it gives the game added flavor.
Q: Why is Sulphur Springs the home team?
A: ESPN wanted a small-town, packed-stadium, football-crazy Texas feel to the game. They will get it in Sulphur Springs.
Wichita Falls' Memorial Stadium seats 17,000, which would not be filled for the game considering it is a four-hour drive from Hopkins County and will be played on a Thursday night. On the other hand, Sulphur Springs' Gerald Prim Stadium seats an estimated 5,000 and will likely be overflowing. Bleachers were moved over from Forrest Gregg Field at Sulphur Springs Middle School to seat more fans, and there is standing room in the south end zone -- all of which is expected to be filled well before game time.
ESPN broadcaste the game between California schools Mater Dei and Carson on Wednesday, and the big 20,000-seat stadium was about 60 percent full. That doesn't look good on television. What ESPN's seven cameras will catch on Thursday will be a packed house, standing-room-only venue.
Q: How long has this been in the works?
A: ESPN contacted SSHS head coach Greg Owens and Rider head coach Scott Ponder in late January. The coaches were told that if they would schedule the match-up, then it would be ESPN's first choice for that weekend. At that point, neither coach knew where the game would be played.
The new schedules came out on Feb. 5, with the game scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 11, but the site still not settled. Through the spring, it became clear that ESPN wanted the game to be in Sulphur Springs. ESPN conducted a site survey last month to map out where the cameras and additional, portable lights would be placed.
Notes: Working in conjunction with Paragon Marketing Group, the ESPN networks will televise 18 of the games as part of the 2008 ESPNU Old Spice High School Showcase. The Old Spice series of games will include teams from 16 different. ESPN360.com will supplement coverage with simulcasts of all ESPN and ESPN2 telecasts. ESPN Scouts Inc. recruiting director Tom Luginbill will serve as the primary analyst for all the game telecasts alongside play-by-play announcer Dave Ryan.
Butch Burney served as the sports editor of the News-Telegram until August, when he was promoted to general manager of Echo Publishing Co., the newspaper's parent corporation.
(Editor's Note: ESPN2 will televise the Sept. 11 football clash between the Sulphur Springs Wildcats and the Wichita Falls Rider Raiders. This is the second in a series of articles about the upcoming game and its impact on the area.)