SEBRING - The best prep football players Florida has to offer will be in action Saturday night in Sebring, as Firemen's Field hosts the 59th Florida Athletic Coaches Association North-South All-Star Classic.
"The FACA administrators basically get together and choose two coaches, one for each squad, who select plays who are the state's cream of the crop to form two teams," said Chairman of the North-South FACA All-Star Classic Austin Maddox. "They bring all those guys down to Sebring for five days and we just have a great time."
The annual event, which usually draws close to 1,000 fans, has been held in Sebring since 2008. The Firemen were instrumental in bringing the game to the Heartland, and the group now oversee's both the FACA football and baseball all-star games. The Firemen even manage to fit the FACA game in on the heels of its annual Heartland South-Central All-Star Game, which showcases some of the surrounding area's best football talent.
"We were lucky enough to be approached a few years ago about fitting the game in with our South-Central all-star event," Maddox said. "And we said 'sure,' and it's just been a great experience for everyone involved."
Being selected to the team is a privilege. Many, if not all of the players, will go on to play football at a Division I university. Only a handful of players from the Central Florida area made the team - Frostproof's Jarviel Hart, Hardee's Keyon Brown, and Sebring's Jacquae Peart round out the exclusive list.
With at least one player on the roster to represent the Blue Streaks, the fan turnout is expected to be stronger than ever.
"It feels good to come out here and play against such great competition," Peart said. "It means a lot to be selected. I started at the bottom and now I'm at the top. This means I accomplished a lot of my goals in life."
Peart, who played in the Heartland's South-Central All-Star Game earlier this month, is hoping to raise his profile even further to attract more high-profile recruiters who could be in attendance this weekend. He's already got the attention of some schools, having gone on official visits to a handful of campuses, but he added that there's no specific goals set for Saturday's game.
"Stand out," Peart said. "That's all I want to do. I just want to stand out."
And in playing against some of the state's best, Peart knows he'll get a chance to see what he does well and what he needs to improve on.
"This will show me where I'm at," he said. "It shows me how good I am and where I need to go from here."
Other notable schools represented in this year's classic include the North Team's Tallahassee-Leon, Gainesville-Buchholz, Lake Mary Prep, Baker, Port St. Joe, and Jacksonville-Ed White. The North squad will be coached by Niceville's John Hicks. South Team standouts include Ft. Meade, Tampa-Jefferson, Everglades, Riverview, Boynton Beach, and Miami-Archbishop Carroll. The South will be coached by Ft. Myers' Sammy Sirianni.
There's more to being a FACA all-star than just football, though.
As players find out when they arrive in Sebring, there's a concerted effort to involve them with the community.
"We take them to the nursing homes around town, take them bowling, to the movies, the local hospital, schools kids, and to help out with the less fortunate," Maddox said. "We put them up in the Kennilworth Hotel and give them a police escort around town. Annett helps out by chartering some buses, we feed them like kings, and other little things like that - we just try and go the extra mile for them."
As Vice President of the Sebring Firemen, Inc. Maddox is acutely aware of how important it is to show off the majesty of community.
"Just one kid spreading the word in his hometown really goes a long way for us," Maddox said. "It brings interest to our downtown area and we're always really excited to bring in new faces."
"And every coach that's ever left here as said the same thing: 'you gotta' come to Sebring, you gotta' come to Sebring.'"
This year's game kicks off at 4 p.m. Fans who aren't able to attend will be able to stream the game live online at the Prep Zone at www.foxsportsflorida.com.
Admission is $10 per person and $5 to park. Kids 12 and under get in free.