MaxPreps ranks IMG Academy as the #3 high school football team in the country. This is what they said about the Ascenders for 2017

IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)

Since its first varsity season in 2013, IMG Academy has gone 37-3 and the Ascenders enter the 2017 season riding a 28-game winning streak. The scary thing is this might be their deepest team yet. They added two of the best from Southern California in 4-star defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles and 4-star running back Tj Pledger. They also added two of the best edge rushers in the country in Xavier Thomas and Nolan Smith, as both check in as Top 5 players overall in their respective classes. The big question for IMG in 2017 will be replacing Kellen Mond at quarterback, but they have two very good options in Artur Sitkowski and Zack Annexstad. IMG Academy enters the year with the hardest schedule in the country, as the Ascenders face nine teams ranked in the Top 100 and three teams in the Top 25.

USA TODAY: Super 25 Preseason Football: No. 2 IMG Academy

DB Houston Griffith, LB Mike Jones (a Clemson commit), DT Taron Vincent (Ohio State commit) and DL TK Chimedza, a Georgia Tech commit, are the top returnees from a defense that allowed only 9.5 points a game last season. Key newcomers include the top DL 2018 recruit in the country in senior DE Xavier Thomas, a transfer from Wilson (Florence, S.C.) who is headed to Clemson, and junior DL Nolan Smith II, a Georgia commit who transferred from Calvary Day (Savannah, Ga.).

The top players back on offense include junior RB Trey Sanders (9.6 yards per carry), an Alabama commit, senior WR Brian Hightower, a Miami commit who averaged 28 yards a catch, senior OL Curtis Dunlap Jr. and junior OL Evan Neal. Quarterback Zack Annexstad also returns, but is going to have to fight for the starting spot with senior transfer Art Sitkowski, a Miami commit who led Old Bridge (Matawan, N.J.) to its state semifinals last year while throwing for 1,216 yards and six TDs and running for eight TDs. The Ascenders landed two key running back transfers. Senior T.J. Pledger, an Oklahoma commit, ran for 1,881 yards and 10 TDs and averaged 11 yards a catch last season at Chaminade (West Hills, Calif.). Junior Noah Cain ran for 1,683 and 22 TDs last season at Guyer (Denton, Texas). Another key newcomer is DB Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles, a Nebraska commit who is a transfer from Calabasas, Calif.

IMG is fast becoming a high school football player producing factory in the US, its recruiting looks just as impressive as USC and Ohio State. Despite being a member of the Florida High School Athletic Association (not eligible for the playoffs) they are able to recruit players from all over the country without penalty.  That has irked state associations in both California and Texas.

How do college coaches see the IMG program.

Nick Saban, University of Alabama head football coach, during 2016 SEC media day.

“Most of the players who go to IMG Academy we’re already recruiting. They do a great job with player development.”

Tom Herman University of Texas head football coach, in a Houston Chronicle story, told the Texas High School Coaches Association Convention in Houston this summer.

“It doesn’t matter whether you go to IMG or you go to Carthage High School, we’re going to find you. I believe high school football is more than just getting recruited. It’s more than X’s and O’s. It’s about community, especially in this state. That community starts to get torn apart a little bit because people want to come in and recruit other players. I’ve got a problem with that.”

This year IMG Academy is adding a second varsity team.

Kevin Wright, Head Coach  IMG’s Blue team

“It’s one program with two teams. Nobody’s ever done it. Nobody’s ever tried it.”

Ken Stills, Head Coach IMG’s  White team

“We’re expanding as a high school, so we’re getting a lot more kids. We’re able now to have two teams and give everybody that same high school experience.”

98 players form the two teams, the Blue team will play a national schedule loaded with four- and five-star prospects. The White team will play exclusively in Florida.

2017 IMG Academy FB Schedules.png

The high school football landscape in the US continues to change at a very fast pace. IMG is setting the table in football for more schools like this to take form, boys basketball is already headed in that direction.

The IMG football program may be a problem to many state associations, but the recent trends of players transferring from school to school at this level continues in most every state. While IMG recruits players openly, schools around the country deny it, but still it happens and players move from school to school to play football.

Is there a workable solution or does there need to be one? Time will tell…

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