The Hoover High football program is a culture unto itself, says Hoover High School head coach Josh Niblett.
Manatee's opponent this Friday night, Hoover has become the face of high school football in Alabama, a state that embraces the sport with a religious fervor.
Hoover has won three-straight state football titles and an Alabama-record 11 championships. The school says it gets more than 2.4 million hits on its football website each season, and is the second-winningest program in the country over the last 14 years.
The largest high school in Alabama, since 2000 Hoover has been in every state championship game but one -- and has taken home eight state titles.
"Our success has nothing to do with football. It has a everything to do with a standard of culture we try to build within our program no matter what the makeup of our team is," Niblett says. "We make a choice for greatness everyday, which for us means doing things better than they've ever been done before. It means doing things uncommonly well and doing the ordinary things extraordinarily well."
Since he took over the program nine years ago, Niblett has certainly done things extraordinarily well, maintaining a winning tradition that was in place under the previous coach Rush Probst.
In the last six seasons, Hoover has gone 84-6 and won three state titles. In the past 14 seasons, it has compiled a 191-15 record on the field and is 62-6 in postseason play. The game will be played in the Buccaneers' Metropolitan Stadium, which seats close to 11,000.
"Our success is not about an attainable or measurable goal. It's about taking an ownership in what we do and to respect that, not only for ourselves, but to the people around us," Niblett says. "We built a culture. It's about how we walk around the school and how we conduct ourselves, and there is an expectation of winning in the community."
The seniors have won a state title every year. However, Niblett points out they didn't play as freshmen and says the players don't talk about things like that anyway.
"I tell them Friday's game is the most important in the history of Hoover football because it's the next game," Niblett says. "Manatee is a great program with a great tradition. We need to find out where we are as a football team and we can do that against a team like Manatee."
Hoover has six returning starters from last year. The Bucs have two stalwarts on defense in linebacker Jeremiah Moon, a Florida commit, and defensive back P.J. Hall.
The offense has a new quarterback in senior Chris Vacarella and a second team All-State offensive lineman Nick Eldridge. Vacarella completed 12-of-21 passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns in Hoover's season-opening 24-6 victory over Tennessee power Oakland last week.
In winning its 13th straight game, Hoover limited Oakland to 114 total yards of offense and had 13 tackles for losses. The only negative for the Bucs were the 13 penalties for 126 yards they racked up.
Though he wants to find out about his team, Niblett says the Manatee game is not just a fact-finding mission for his coaching staff.
"It's another opportunity for us to compete, and we are not going into this game worrying about week three or about week five or six," Niblett says. "We wanted to play Manatee because they are a powerhouse with a strong tradition. It's good for our program because I am always about finding out where we are at."
Manatee head coach John Booth is also looking to get a read on where his team stands, and says Hoover will provide that. A win on the road in a hostile environment would also be a big confidence booster.
"Their defense as a whole is a similar to how we play. They pursue well and are fast. They are pretty explosive and get to the ball," Booth said. "This week we stressed sustaining our blocks. Their quarterback was impressive. He did a good job of breaking the pocket last week and when we get the opportunity to get in their backfield we have to wrap up."