California high school football powerhouse De La Salle released its 2021 schedule on Monday and one out-of-state opponent is standing out as the headliner of the slate.

St. Frances Academy of Baltimore, Maryland will travel to California to take on De La Salle in a nationally televised affair on Oct. 1. St. Frances Academy has established itself as one of the premier high school football programs in the nation recently, going 44-3 since 2016 with multiple Top 10 finishes in the USA Today Super 25 along the way.

“It’s a great challenge with St. Frances,” De La Salle head coach Justin Alumbaugh said. “They are of the caliber of the teams that play for our state title, so we are looking forward to testing ourselves.”

St. Frances boasts seven of the top 16 class of 2022 recruits in the state of Maryland, according to 247Sports, in four-star linebacker Jaishawn Barham, four-star defensive lineman Derrick Moore, four-star defensive lineman Nasir Pearce, four-star cornerback Cam Johnson, three-star cornerback and Boston College commit Jamal Hood, three-star offensive tackle Jacob Sacra and three-star wide receiver and Minnesota commit Ike White. The Panthers also feature an abundance of elite 2023 and 2024 talent.

De La Salle’s other notable 2021 opponent is San Diego catholic school power Cathedral Catholic. De La Salle will have to deal with its usual gauntlet of an East Bay Athletic League schedule, but matchups with St. Frances and Cathedral Catholic will serve as a litmus test for the Spartans this upcoming season.

“Cathedral Catholic is disciplined, physical, athletic and well-coached,” Alumbaugh said. “We’re looking forward to that new matchup with a great program.”

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Friday night, the Athens-area soccer scene will prove why it’s a state powerhouse. 

North Oconee’s girls, a Class 4A school ranked No. 1 for the first time in school history, hosts Class A Private No. 2 Athens Academy in one of Georgia’s most highly anticipated showdowns. 

Having two top-ranked soccer programs has become normal for the Athens area, as witnessed by this season’s wealth of ranked programs. 

Nine boys and girls teams are in the top 10 of the Eurosport Scoreboard rankings, the main site in the country for all things prep soccer.

Commerce’s girls top the Class A Public charts while Oconee County’s girls and Athens Academy’s boys are ranked second in Class 3A and A Private, respectively. 

Two years removed from a Class 4A state title, Oconee County’s boys rank third in Class 3A while Clarke Central’s boys (sixth, Class 5A), Jefferson’s girls (fifth, Class 4A) and Jefferson’s boys (seventh) are also in the top 10 of their classifications. 

With an overabundance of soccer programs and sheer numbers, it’s no surprise that Atlanta has several of the state’s best high school teams. But what makes the Athens-area a close second produces similar opinions from area coaches. 

“I think the clubs around here are really starting to grow,” said Deanna Shaw, Commerce’s girls coach and a longtime coach at the Oconee Futbol Club. “The coaches at those clubs are doing such a good job of getting those players developed and ready for high school.” 

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Club soccer programs in the area have fed teams for several years, but they’ve grown leaps and bounds in the past decade, according to Shaw. 

High school coaches agree that the efforts of club soccer programs are essential to their success, but most say their talented players come from a number of differing youth programs. 

For Oconee County High School, most players have been on the same teams for years, rising through U-9 to U-19 age groups to form a cohesive unit into their days as Warriors. 

Commerce and Jefferson use Jackson County’s Alliance Soccer Club to develop youth while the Athens United program out of Holland Park north of downtown evolves players that filter to Clarke Central and Cedar Shoals. 

Occasionally high school players will cross over to other programs, and North Oconee coach Ben Grassmyer says many of his players make the drive to Atlanta to play on some of the nation’s best club teams.  

“The area in general, I think my first thought is that it’s such a soccer town,” Grassmyer said. “The local people of Athens and the Oconee area, there’s such a soccer culture here. There’s a lot of soccer people embedded within the UGA community and kids end up playing soccer. We’re just fortunate to have that.” 

Local competition has built are teams as well. 

Instead of traveling to Atlanta throughout the season to find challenging non-region games, Athens-area teams can