Behind The Scenes

Teeing up ‘High School Kickoff’

Friday Night Lights, the acclaimed fictional television series about high school football, lives on in reruns on ESPN Classic.

Many other ESPN platforms will be delivering fresh, new episodes of real high school gridiron dramas starting later this month.

Beginning Friday, Aug. 26 and running through Sunday, Aug. 28, the second annual ESPN High School Football Kickoff airs.

The 13-game marathon showcases top-flight teams such as St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.), South Panola (Miss.) and Hoover (Ala.).

Originating from 10 states, games will air live on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and

Dan Margulis, ESPNU’s Director of Programming and Acquisitions, helps coordinate the High School Kickoff project.

He tells Front Row what this event means to the recent rebranding of the company’s prep programming to ESPN High School (formerly ESPN RISE), and the level of talent that will be on display before and behind the cameras.

FR: How are the 26 teams selected for the ESPN HS Kickoff?

Margulis: It is a balance. Our goal is to have as many states as possible represented with the best available stories as defined by teams from the ESPN High School’s Fab 50 and players ranked in the ESPNU 150. Last year, we had eight games representing seven states, and this year we have grown it to 13 games representing 13 states. There are seven teams ranked in last year’s ESPN High School’s Fab 50 and 15 ESPNU-ranked players.

FR: How big a job is coordinating 13 telecasts over the course of three days?

Margulis: It is a large undertaking. Our production and operations group does an amazing job of coordinating these telecasts. High school venues bring different challenges as TV is not always something with which they are familiar. Our task is to tell the story of these teams and towns while respecting and complementing all that makes these towns unique — and tell their stories.

FR: ESPN recently announced that it is rebranding ESPN RIse as ESPN High School. How important is the High School Kickoff to that initiative?

Margulis: It will be an on-air launching pad for the new brand along with the Boost Mobile Elite 24 basketball event which also takes place on that weekend and airs on ESPNU. The Kickoff logo will incorporate the new ESPNHS logo, there will be in-venue signage, and various on-air elements that stay true to this new, exciting branding effort.

FR: What are your ties to high school football and prep sports in general?

Margulis: I oversee the television portion of high school events that appear on the ESPN platforms working closely with the ESPNHS team. High school sports has been one of the pillars on ESPNU since launch so it is something I have worked on extensively. [As for myself], at Belmont Hill School outside Boston I was a small [basketball] guard until I grew 6 inches and gained 5 pounds in one year, so eventually I transitioned to water polo in college.

FR: What are viewers in store for with the High School Kickoff?

Margulis: I think the biggest thing is continually improving telecasts and coordination, explaining to viewers why these games have significance. We will spend a great deal of time not only on coverage of the teams and towns, but as always, break down some of the key players and their collegiate potential. Recruiting is always a thread in our high school television product.

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