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Tidewater Area a Hotbed of Football Talent


Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Southern California are regarded as the supposed hotbeds of college and NFL talent, but Virginia's coastal region isn't far behind and its influence is growing.

In fact, the Virginia Tidewater area--Norfolk, Hampton, Newport News, Virginia Beach and surrounding communities--has produced football players in abundance through the years.

These days, the college recruiter who doesn't pay strong attention to the Tidewater area is likely to be overlooking key players who can help lift a program.

As the Redskins head to Virginia Beach, Va. on May 17-18 for the third annual Redskins Beach Blitz, the team renews its connection to the region.

Through the years, the list of NFL stars from that part of the state of Virginia is impressive.

Chris Hanburger, Bruce Smith, Kenny Easley. Mel Gray, Larry Bethea, Al Toon. Michael Vick. All of those former NFL stars began as high school footballers in the Tidewater vicinity.

Hanburger, who has the Redskins' record for most Pro Bowl appearances with nine, went to Hampton High School.

Smith, the NFL's all-time sack leader, starred at Virginia Tech and with the Buffalo Bills and Redskins after his days at Booker T. Washington High in Norfolk.

Toon, a standout wide receiver who caught 93 balls for the Jets in 1988, represented Menchville High in Newport News.

Brandon Noble, a defensive lineman with the Redskins from 2003-05 before a series of career-ending injuries, hailed from Virginia Beach. A Penn State product, Noble was once the Virginia class 3-A player of the year for First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach.

As far as the NFL in 2007, you could point to the Giants' Plaxico Burress, Denver's Dre Bly and a host of others to further the point that the Tidewater region is chock-full of football players with extraordinary skills.

The family of cornerback Shawn Springs hails from the Southern Virginia region. Ron Springs, an NFL running back with the Dallas Cowboys, played his high school ball at Lafayette High in nearby Williamsburg, the same school that produced Lawrence Taylor.

High school football is a big deal in the Tidewater area and the commitment of high school and youth league coaches remains high.

Of course, one of the best high school football players ever to come out of that part of the state, Allen Iverson, went on to stardom in basketball.

This weekend, when dozens of Redskins players and coaches descend upon Virginia Beach for the Beach Blitz, they'll come upon fans who already know about and appreciate their region's football heritage.

Says offensive lineman Chris Samuels, one of the many Redskins expected to be on hand: "This weekend should be a great experience for the fans. A lot of them don't get the opportunity to make it to our games. But still we appreciate their support."

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