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October 4, 2011

Super sophomores getting it done

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Tom Bergeron is the Senior Editor for RivalsHigh.com. Send ideas, questions or comments to TBergero@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow on Twitter.

It all came down to this for Indianapolis (Ind.) Warren Central.

After blowing a 19-point lead to its biggest rival (Carmel) in the state's biggest venue (Lucas Oil Stadium), the then-No. 10 team in the RivalsHigh 100 had time for one last play.

For that, coach John Hart sent out kicker Max Hernandez for a 38-yard field-goal attempt.

That's sophomore Max Hernandez - a player who had never kicked a high school field goal in his life.

"Max Hernandez is a tremendously talented kicker," Hart said. "He is probably the first true Division I kicker I have coached. He has kicked 60-yard field goals in practice so we were confident with him out there."

Welcome to today's high school football, where programs are willing to put younger players in pressure situations.

Mike Farrell, the national analyst for Rivals.com, has seen the trend grow over the years.

"I think there have always been talented sophomores in the last many years, but the maturity and big-game ability of them is far more advanced," he said.

The reasons, Farrell said, are two-fold.

"It comes with the advent of spring camps and summer tournaments, where younger kids go against upperclassmen so often now it's second nature to the really talented ones," he said. "That, and their advanced physical development compared to even a decade ago, is a recipe for success."

Hart agreed: "My rule has always been that if a kid was physically strong as well as mature enough to handle it he would play with the best players," he said.

Some sophomores do more than play. The are so big and strong - and talented - coaches are not afraid to make them the focal point of their offense.

No. 26 Miami (Fla.) Central couldn't go to sophomore running back Joseph Yearby enough against ranked rival Miami (Fla.) Columbus last Friday night.

Yearby, who caught a pass for a score, finished with 292 yards on the ground and four more rushing touchdowns - including the game-winner with 22 seconds left.

No. 5 Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep feels the same way about its super sophomore, Jabrill Peppers, who plays both ways.

Peppers, who started in the secondary as a freshman, is now a top running back, too. He ran for 133 yards on 14 carries last weekend to help Don Bosco defeat rival Oradell (N.J.) Bergen Catholic.

And then there are the programs that are just looking for a spark - no matter where it comes from - such as Edmond (Okla.) Santa Fe.

The school won't find its way into the RivalsHigh rankings any time soon. But after a 1-9 season a year ago, it's just happy to find itself in the win column.

After turning to sophomore quarterback Justice Hansen, the team is off to a 4-1 start with no bigger win than it had last week against Lawton (Okla.) High.

After erasing a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit, Santa Fe found itself down 34-33 with 65 yards to go and just over a minute to do it in.

No problem. Hansen drove the team down the field and hit Trevan Smith for the game-winning score.

With all this success, you would think pressure isn't any issue.

It is. Just ask Hernandez.

"I was a little nervous," he told the Indianapolis Star. "My heart was beating pretty fast."

The same could be said for his older teammates - until his kick went straight through the uprights for the victory.

-- RivalsHigh Senior Analyst Dallas Jackson contributed to this report.

MORE: RivalsHigh 100 rankings | Scanning the nation: Highlights from ranked games

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