RivalsHigh.com has begun its 2010 countdown, ranking the teams from No. 1 through No. 100.
We started at No. 100 on July 26 and will release two groups of five teams per day. Then, we'll do a daily countdown from No. 10 to No. 1. Our top team will be unveiled later today - two weeks from the start of the season.
After that, we will wait until Sept. 1 for the next rankings, then have them every Monday during the season.
The team rankings were compiled by high school sports senior analyst Dallas Jackson, the Rivals AMP team, football recruiting analysts and the entire RivalsHigh network of publishers.
COACH: Steve Warren LAST SEASON: 15-0, Texas Class 5A Division II State Champs
FINAL 2009 RANKING:: No. 5 in RivalsHigh 100
After winning the school's first state title in 53 years last season, Abilene (Texas) High coach Steve Warren was the toast of the town.
Entering 2010 with his two best offensive players returning, he is a man with a mission, leading a team with lofty expectations that begins the season ranked No. 3 in the RivalsHigh 100.
"The people in Abilene have penciled us in to win another title," he said. "I am not sure they know how murderous of a schedule we have, as much as they know we have Herschel (Sims) and Ronnie (Sims) back."
He is also not sure they care to know about the schedule.
Herschel Sims, a Rivals.com four-star running back, piled up 2,260 yards rushing and 32 touchdowns, leading the Eagles to the state title and No. 5 national ranking in the RivalsHigh 100 last season.
His cousin, Ronnell Sims, is a three-star athlete who will line up at quarterback. His ability to mix the pass and run keeps opposing defenses honest. He threw the ball 170 times and called his own number 137 times in 2009. It is a split that figures to stay the same.
"Having those two kids back makes it understandable," Warren said of the expectations. "But those guys won't win it by themselves. We lost a lot of players and need to have guys step in."
The key to the team this season will likely be in the trenches.
The Eagles lost much of its defensive line and half of its offensive line.
Abilene does return three players on its offensive line in Ben Kitley, Anthony Flores and Jacob Martinez. Kittley was third-team all-state last season, Flores returns at center and Martinez will line up at tight end but figures to do a lot of blocking and acts more like an extra tackle.
"We are not a team like Cedar Hill [(Texas) High] or some of those other schools with 20 Division I players," Warren said. "Really, we only have the Sims boys and maybe a few Division II-type kids. This is a hardworking high school football team. We aren't flashy and we certainly won't pass the eyeball test."
According to Warren, hard work and team chemistry are often overlooked when comparing teams across the country.
"Lots of people want to just check off boxes to see who will be good," he said. "If they did that, then Abilene wouldn't be on their radar. We are not a hype team. We don't have a lot of prospects. We just work hard. That style and mentality of being a great high school football team fits us to a T."
A player that embodies that hard work for Abilene is its middle linebacker, Anthony Carriola.
Carriola checks in at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds and is not a Division I prospect by any means. But, according to Warren, he is the definition of an Abilene football player.
"He made 15 starts for us last year and will be out there in the heart of our defense this year," Warren said. "In the state playoffs on the 3 yard line, Cedar Hill ran it at him two straight times. He made the play both times and won the game for us. He is just a darn good high school football player. He made the play because he worked hard to make sure he could make the plays."
For Abilene to make a run at another state title and potential national championship, the Eagles will have their fair share of plays to make, navigating one of the most difficult schedules in the country.
The Eagles will take on the RivalsHigh No. 44-ranked team, Franklinton (La.) High, No. 79-ranked Cocoa (Fla.) High, one of the nation's best teams in Tampa (Fla.) Plant and a team moving back to Texas 5A in Longview High.
"This is the hardest year of scheduling I have had in 15 years at Abilene," Warren said. "Having those three out-of-state opponents is not something we wanted to do, to be honest with you. I guess being defending state champs and not really in a location just outside of any metroplexes, it was tough to get people to come play us."
While it may not have gone the way Warren wanted, it has helped in the offseason preparation.
"The kids are so excited," he said. "It is not the same-old, same-old for them. We aren't just getting ready for the season; they are getting ready with a purpose. They know people are gunning for them and they are taking it very seriously."
But preparing and being ready are two different things.
Warren knows that. But he also knows what else it will take to repeat.