Before Michael Jordan was making Bryon Russell fall with a killer crossover and draining the go ahead jumper to win his sixth NBA title with the Chicago Bulls, Jordan was a skinny, determined athlete dominating the competition at Laney High (Wilmington, N.C.).
Before Adrian Peterson was trucking opposing defenses and racking up 2,097 yards in a single season for the Minnesota Vikings he was shining bright under the Friday night lights at Palestine High (Palestine, Texas), averaging 12 yards a carry and scoring 32 touchdowns.
Before any athlete can become legendary they have to lay their foundation in the high school ranks.
Each week I’ll chat with a high-profile athlete’s former coach, mentor, family member, etc., and reminisce about their high school playing days; everything from the greatest moment to the wackiest story.
This week I caught up with this year’s No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Jadeveon Clowney’s high school coach at South Pointe (Rock Hill, S.C.) Bobby Carroll, now the head coach at York Comprehensive (York, S.C.).
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of Jadeveon on the field?
Bobby Carroll: It was in a game against Rock Hill, which was a cross-town rival of ours. They were 11-0 and we had no business beating them, but we were beating them and we had them backed up to the 20-yard line with three minutes to go. We put Clowney at linebacker standing up in the middle because they had a really fast quarterback and we knew he could catch him. They ran a trick play, which was a bounce pass that went to a receiver on the side and he threw a pass to another player down the field. The kid caught the ball on the 45-yard line and Clowney took off from the 26-yard line and he chased that kid down and caught him on the 4-yard line. It was almost like that famous Champ Bailey-Ben Watson play. It was amazing! That was the first play I showed to Coach (Nick) Saban when he came to visit Clowney at school and he said, “I don’t need to see anymore; I need to meet this kid.”
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JJ: What’s the hardest hit you’ve ever seen him deliver in a game back then?
BC: Well, those hits like he the famous Michigan hit were pretty common for him in high school. I’d have to say the hardest hit I’ve seen was one game during a punt return he hit a kid so hard the kid started to cough up blood. It was pretty brutal. He put a bunch of kids out of the game! We gave the Hammer of the Week awards every week for the hardest hit and he won several of those.
JJ: What kind of guy was Jadeveon off the field?
BC: Just a great kid to hangout with. Kids gravitated to him long before he became a super hero. He loved to play cards and video games and could really talk to anyone. The worst trouble he’s ever been in were speeding tickets, that’s pretty good. I really enjoyed being around him and I’m an older guy.
JJ: A lot of defensive players say that people have preconceived ideas that they’re mean off the field.
BC: That’s true and that’s what people thought about him too. He’s really, really mild mannered until he puts that helmet on; then he becomes a different human being. He just becomes a fierce competitor on the field, but off the field he’s the nicest, most laid back kid you’ll meet.
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JJ: What’s something random that he enjoys?
BC: Eating sushi! He loves it. I turned him on to it back then and he just loves it all; monster rolls, tempura rolls, all of it.
JJ: Was he absolutely the best choice at No. 1 for the Texans?
BC: Oh no doubt about it! Anyone that follows the National Football League and watched the Super Bowl you saw one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in Peyton Manning against the Legion of Doom. If I’m an NFL owner I’d want to invest my money in my defense. Every championship team in high school, college or the pros is built around a great defense, and I think that Coach (Bill) O’Brien, who I got to meet, believes in that. Hey, when the other team doesn’t score it’s hard to lose!
JJ: How good will Jadeveon be in the NFL?
BC: Well, he wants to be one of the best that’s ever played. We got state championship rings his sophomore year and it got stolen from him during his junior year. Well, a couple months before the draft he asked if I could get him another ring. I asked him why and he said, “I want my state championship ring from high school, I want my bowl ring from college and I want to get a Super Bowl ring next.” It was that important to him. He told me it wasn’t about the money; he just wanted to be the No. 1 guy in the NFL draft and he got that. All the naysayers and all the negativity only motivated him. Now he’s determined to be one of the best that ever played the game and he’s not a player anyone should bet against; I’ll tell you that.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY