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 athletes 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 Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III’s high school coach at Copperas Cove (Texas) Jack Welch.
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of Robert on the field?
Jack Welch: That’s not a hard one at all; it was when we were playing Waco High School for the district championship. It was right down to the end of the ballgame and they were beating us by seven points. Time was about to run out and it was 4th-and-goal to go from the 12-yard line. Common sense would tell you to pass the football or try to get outside, but they didn’t have an inside linebacker so we called a quarterback draw. I was nervous because that’s 12 yards, ya know. Well, Robert faked the pass really good and just took off in one of the most beautiful runs I’ve ever seen right up the middle. I mean he zig-zagged and everything and got to the end zone. We tied it up on that play. He had a lot of great runs and a lot of great passes, but that was the most memorable to me.
JJ: I’ve heard he was a really good basketball player and track star; do you think he would’ve been as successful in any of those other two sports as he has been in football?
JW: Oh absolutely. Robert would go to national track meets when he was younger and set national records for his age group. He didn’t actually play football until he got to junior high. He was really accomplished as a track star. That was always the question: Is he gonna go track or is he gonna go in football? But he was one heck of a basketball player. I’ve been here 20 years and he’s one of only two kids that made varsity as a freshman. There’s no question that he could’ve been a pro basketball player too. I really believe that.
JJ: When did you know he would be a pro?
JW: When he got to Baylor and I saw him develop there. He always had the potential and athleticism but you never know that stuff. I could sit here and make myself sound smart and knowledgeable, but the truth is you don’t know that. People who say that aren’t telling the truth most times. It’s so hard to make it to the NFL.
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JJ: What’s wackiest story you can remember from his recruitment?
JW: Probably that there were colleges like Texas and Texas A&M that wanted to move him from quarterback to receiver and free safety. They all loved his athleticism, but not everyone was recruiting him as a quarterback. I thought that was crazy because this kid can throw the ball a country mile. You know what’s crazy, Baylor wanted him for track and they were gonna let him play football too. Well, Robert committed to Houston because that’s where Art Briles was. Then in that season they fired the coach that was at Baylor and hired Art Briles and Robert was Briles’ first recruit. People thought that wasn’t right, but I told them all players go to colleges for the coach. They commit for the scheme and style of the coach because that’s their career. That’s just how it works. I was a college coach before and I know how it works.
JJ: A lot of people were saying he shouldn’t have come back so early, what’s your take?
JW: Well, I’ll tell you my take, but it’s different from most people because I’m a coach. The bottom line is that’s hogwash from people who don’t understand how things work. First of all, before you say the leader’s name you have to say “Coach.” What Robert is is a player. He gets paid millions of dollars to play and win football games. They are professionals. It really irritates me because they want to blame Robert for coming back early and the coach but neither of them is the team doctor. All he can do is bust his butt and do everything that he can to get back to that team to do what he was paid to do. The doctors are trained professionals and they put the player through a series of tests to determine if he’s ready. The only thing they’d ask Robert is, “Are you mentally ready?” And Robert will always say yes to that. If you tell him he’s OK to play then he will absolutely play every time. Someone asked me would I have put him in? Well, I’ve known the guy since the third grade and when I saw him come off the field like that I knew he was hurt. He don’t fake!
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JJ: What do you expect from Robert next season?
JW: I think he’s gonna tear it up! I have seen Robert Griffin when he gets determined. There ain’t much that’s gonna stop him.
JJ: Playoff bound?
JW: Sure. He’s that determined. When he gets in that mind frame, you’d better watch out!
JJ: Did he surprise you with the success he’s had so far?
JW: No, now that’s what I can say is that I’m not surprised. I told people when he got drafted that he’d revolutionize the NFL. I said they are gonna start doing the zone option, the read option and the counter option and the bottom line is that you’re gonna see him explode. When he gets in the shotgun and he can run or pass you’re in trouble. People don’t think the quarterback should run because he’s gonna get hurt, but look at the statistics and see how many people get hurt sitting in the pocket. I say you’ve just gotta play football. That’s all Robert knows.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY