After a $16 million donation, a high school football league’s race for recruits goes national

More than 50 supporters of the St. John’s College High School football team lined the sideline in the waning moments of the team’s semifinal loss to Gonzaga, yelling their frustration. Upset over what they believed was a missed call on a game-sealing touchdown for their opponent, they were soon drowned out by the visiting Gonzaga student section, which celebrated its team’s playoff victory on this chilly Saturday in mid-November with a roaring cheer of “God is purple! God is purple!”

As the players, many of whom rank among the nation’s top college prospects, exited the field in upper Northwest Washington, a sideline reporter rushed over to conduct postgame interviews for the online stream.

It was an exhilarating scene, but one that is commonplace in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, a history-rich league that is beginning to look more like major college football than your typical high school matchup under Friday night lights.

The WCAC, made up of 13 private schools from around the D.C. area, has long cut a national profile, particularly for its deep basketball tradition. But football in the conference has recently ascended to another level — from resources to recruiting and overall enthusiasm — with three of its schools ranked among MaxPreps’ latest top 30 in the country. Most observers point to a $16 million donation to St. John’s from school alumnus and Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank in 2015 as the moment the game changed.

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