Bishop Carroll and Kapaun Mount Carmel have one of the best rivalries in Kansas high school sports. Tonight, the schools showcase their rivalry for a national audience. Cable network ESPNU, Channel 244, is televising the Kapaun-Carroll football game at 7 p.m. from Carroll Field. It's the first time two Wichita schools have played on national TV.
"This game is already a big deal because it's a rivalry, but it adds a lot more excitement when you get the opportunity to showcase your school on national television," Carroll coach Alan Schuckman said. "That makes it special."
In 2007, ESPNU televised the Wichita East at Dodge City game. That game featured brothers Arthur and Bryce Brown of East, then two of the top national high school recruits.
Carroll quarterback Blake Bell is the focus tonight. Bell, who has given the University of Oklahoma an oral commitment to play there, is the third-ranked quarterback on the ESPNU list of football prospects. He's ranked 66th overall.
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Bell, a senior, realizes that most eyes will be on him.
"Being on national TV will add a little more pressure, but I'm going to try to keep it as cool as I can," Bell said. "People might think that (ESPNU) is coming here be-cause of me, but the country is going to see the Bishop Carroll football team. I'm just a part of that."
Having the game on national television is important to Carroll alum Tad Gomez. Gomez graduated in 1990 and hasn't seen a Kapaun-Carroll game since 1993. Now living in Augusta, Ga., Gomez has contacted several other graduates in his area and is planning a watch party.
"It's a big deal because not being in the area, I'm a little out of touch," he said. "I think that this is unique and I'm so happy for the both schools and the area. I don't think people see Wichita as football country. And this is a great way to showcase both schools."
Talks between Schuckman, the Carroll coach, and ESPNU began in December, as he and ESPNU scout Tom Luginbill had several conversations about Bell. ESPNU asked for a list of the biggest games on Carroll's schedule.
ESPN networks will televise 22 high school football games this season. The network began televising games in 2005 with three games.
This season, ESPN has telecast four high school football games. Those games averaged a 0.6 Nielsen rating (552,000 households). The one ESPN2 high school football telecast earned a 0.3 rating (336,000 households).
"High school coverage is something we pride ourselves on," coordinating producer Meg Reintjes said. "We want to show the best matchups with the best stories. People are going to see Blake Bell, but they are also going to see a great rivalry."
Tickets for the game are $5 for adults and $3 for kids (kindergarten-8th grade). Gates will open at 5 p.m. Admission is limited to 8,000 people.
The Eagles have owned Kapaun this decade, winning the last 10 games. Carroll is 5-0 and poised to win its third straight City League title. Kapaun is 3-2.
"People are probably underestimating us, but we use that as motivation," Kapaun running back Dyllon Knox said. "We want to put our school out there just as much as they want to put their name out there."
For Knox, it's also a chance for personal gain. The City League boasts two of the top backs in the Midwest in Northwest's Demarcus Robinson and Southeast's Joseph Randle. Knox thinks that this is his chance to show that he also has something to offer a major-college program.
"I know that coaches will be watching and I think I can make a name for myself," Knox said. "I want to let those coaches know that I can be that running back for them."
While he isn't a coach, there will be one set of eyes glued to Knox that night. They belong to his half-brother, Donald Gray III. Gray, 28, is a member of the Navy and stationed in Groton, Conn. He has yet to see Knox, a two-year starter, play on Kapaun's varsity team.
"When I was on the boat I was going crazy because I didn't know what was going on," Gray said. "I heard he was going to be on TV, not just TV, but ESPN, I told all my boys. I always hear about how he is doing. I read about how he is doing. But now I get to see it."