To this day, Bill Manning can recall vividly how special it felt to play one of his high school playoff soccer games at Hofstra Stadium in New York.
The now-Real Salt Lake President harkens back to that memory when he starts organizing events like the Xfinity Challenge, a high school football event Sept. 29 that will draw two high-level powers to Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy.
"I'm a big high school sports fan and always have been," Manning said. "I love the camaraderie, love the school spirit. Now I'm able to give back and provide a first-class venue for these kids."
The games still are weeks away, but Manning hardly can contain his excitement. The challenge already appears to be the premier out-of-state match-ups of the year.
Alta blew out Taft (Calif.) and Jordan handled Notre Dame (N.J.) with relative ease last season. Both programs requested tougher competition, and they'll get it when nationally ranked St. John Bosco (Calif.) and Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) come to town.
Both programs were in the RivalsHigh Top 100 this week. St. John Bosco will have to deal with the Beetdiggers' potent offense, while Alta and its vaunted passing attack will have to overcome a Don Bosco program that some consider the best in the country over the last few years.
Sponsorship from Xfinity, SportsMed Utah and the city of Sandy is helping cover travel and accommodations for the teams. But the big draw, Manning said, is the venue itself and the treatment the teams know they'll get. The athletic director at Don Bosco Prep called Notre Dame before scheduling the contest.
Future goals for the Challenge include drawing bigger crowds with big-name programs and possibly getting the game televised on ESPN.
But Manning said he expects the two Utah schools to stay the same, in part out of respect to the community that helped build the stadium.