Southern Football’s Rise Can Be Seen in Rock Hill, S.C.

“Everyone’s working to grab their dreams,” Adams added, “’cause in this town, everyone knows you can.”

An Unlikely Talent Incubator

San Pedro de Macorís, in the Dominican Republic, is famous for producing Major League Baseball players, just as New York City once set the bar for high school basketball talent. Over the past couple of decades, Rock Hill has been a little like that for football. Northwestern High’s Derek Ross was a cornerback for Ohio State, and then for several N.F.L. teams. Rock Hill High’s Chris Hope played safety at Florida State before a long Pro Bowl career that included a victory in Super Bowl XL with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The former Bearcat Tim Jones starred in the early 1990s at linebacker at Clemson, and now works back at Rock Hill High. The former Notre Dame all-American defensive back Jeff Burris, who played at Northwestern High, returned to South Bend as a coach this season.

That Rock Hill is now nationally renowned as an incubator of football talent is partly a consequence of arbitrary fortune: from 2012 to 2014, it happened to produce three consecutive first-round N.F.L. picks in…

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