With 2011 firmly in the rearview, the high school sports focus turns to 2012. It should be equally compelling. While familiar faces will remain relevant, plenty of new ones should jump onto the national radar. Here are 10 storylines to watch.
1. National Signing Day. Sure, it happens every year. But that doesn't make high school's ultimate decision day of any less intriguing. This year's class is brimming with uncommitted talent: Wideouts Dorial Green-Beckham and Stefon Diggs could become immediate big-play threats, while safeties Shaq Thompson and Landon Collins could wreak instant havoc in the secondary.
This much is clear: Following a bevy of coaching changes, the landscape has drastically changed. Ohio State has added Noah Spence, Tommy Schutt and Se'Von Pittman since Urban Meyer's hire in November, while Pitt is danger of losing a bevy of top recruits following Todd Graham's abrupt departure. It should add up to a wild -- and largely unpredictable -- Feb. 1.
2. A dynasty in Louisville. Trinity (Ky.) football was a model of dominance last season, going 14-0 and outscoring opponents 697-116 to become SI.com's top-ranked team. The scary part? With quarterback Travis Wright, running back Dalyn Dawkins and wide receiver James Quick all returning, the Shamrocks could be even better in 2012.
The numbers don't lie: The junior trio accounted for a combined 6,638 yards and 74 touchdowns, scoring at least twice in all of Trinity's games. Given another nationally demanding schedule (Trinity defeated five out-of-state foes in '11), and the 'Rocks stand a rare legitimate chance at a repeat.
3. National playoffs in the works? Think the BCS is controversial? Try staging a championship between two of the seemingly countless high school programs across the country. However daunting, that's exactly what Trinity and Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) attempted in December, as the powerhouses entertained the idea -- and even reached out to Yankee Stadium and ESPN -- in hopes of setting up an inaugural title clash.
It was a long way from happening, with both the Kentucky and New Jersey governing bodies promptly denying the request. But Pandora's Box was opened. Expect follow-up bids -- and increased pressure to make them a reality.
4. High school football as big business. The demand for a national playoff, unfathomable as of last year, brings a larger, more significant trend to the fore: High school football has become an unmistakable cash cow. Not only have national publications amped up coverage in recent years, but schools and marketing firms are reaping D-I caliber profits. A recent article in The New Yorker details Don Bosco's football factory, one that's inked sponsorships with Reebok, New Balance and Nike since coach Greg Toal took over in 2001.
The best indicator of the game's growing popularity? Attendance. More than 43,000 fans witnessed the Texas 4A Division 2 final on Dec. 17 -- besting the total from this year's first eight college bowl games. Look for those numbers to grow in 2012.
5. The quest for another perfect season. Last spring, legendary coach Bob Hurley and St. Anthony capped a 33-0 campaign by ousting St. Patrick -- the subject of an HBO documentary -- and Plainfield to claim a mythical national title. This year, led by 6-foot-7 point guard Kyle Anderson, the Friars look to replicate that vaunted feat. It won't be easy: Already with a target on its back, St. Anthony (3-0) plays national powers Miller Grove and Huntington Prep by mid-February.
6. Like father, like son. As a senior at Glades Central (Fla.) in 1993, Pro Bowler Fred Taylor rushed for 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns to become Florida's Mr. Football. Nearly two decades later, his son, Kelvin, is even more prolific. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder rushed for 2,884 yards and 40 touchdowns last season, breaking Emmitt Smith's state rushing record and leading Glades Day (Fla.) to the Class 2A semifinals.
His next goal? Accomplishing what Johnathan Gray couldn't. Entering his senior year, Taylor is a mere 1,702 yards shy of the untouchable national rushing record (11,232 yards) set by Sugar Land's (Texas) Ken Hall in 1953.
7. Dual-sport drama. Detailed extensively in a prior SI.com profile, Hueytown's (Ala.) Jameis Winston faces a difficult decision come summer: serve as Florida State's quarterback of the future or sign a potential million dollar contract as a minor league outfielder. The versatile signal-caller amassed 2,424 passing yards, 1,063 rushing yards, 43 total TDs in '11, but could be selected in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft. It's sure to keep him the subject of Seminole attention -- and likely rampant speculation.
Winston's not the only player in a two-way predicament. Petal (Miss.) quarterback Anthony Alford also boasts both skills, and holds offers to Alabama, LSU and South Carolina, among others. As both rise to prominence, the question becomes: In which sport?
8. A recruiting coup in Westwood? With Kyle Anderson and four-star forward Jordan Adams already headed to UCLA, Ben Howland has the makings of a coveted 2012 class. It could become historically good: Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Parker, Rivals' 1st and 33rd ranked prospects, both include the Bruins in their narrowing consideration sets.
Their additions would transform UCLA into a Final Four threat, rivaling this year's Kentucky bunch as the best haul in recent memory. And it's a distinct possibility. "I think we'll get them," Adams told Five-Star Basketball in December.
9. Putting the boys to shame. The subject of a number of memorable headlines, girls dominated the gridiron in 2011. And following the trailblazing success of Brianna Amat -- Pinckney's (Mich.) kicker turned homecoming queen -- and Andrea Marsh -- Panama's (N.Y.) defensive back extraordinaire -- more girls could follow in their footsteps next season.
Turns out, they can coach, too. Natalie Randolph -- the second varsity female coach ever -- led Coolidge High (D.C.) to an 8-3 record and a Public Schools championship berth. Expect more of the same in 2012.
10. The courage of Fennville, Mich. In March, Fennville found itself entangled in one of the most tragic stories of the year: Wes Leonard, a 16-year-old all-state guard, died of a failed enlarged heart just moments after scoring the game-winning layup against Bridgman (Mich.). His death left a school and community reeling -- and sent shockwaves that reverberated throughout the nation.
The Blackhawks' response showed unparalleled toughness. They won the next three games in Leonard's honor, and dedicated their subsequent season to his memory. With Wes' younger brother, Mitchell, now on the team, Fennville's courage should serve as an ongoing reminder: Particularly in high school, winning is only part of the equation.