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.
We caught up with Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan’s high school coach at Penn Charter (Philadelphia) Brian McCloskey.
Ryan and the Falcons will face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of Matt on the field?
Brian McCloskey: There are many, but probably just his leadership and intellect and ability to understand the game. He had the freedom to audible plays at the line of scrimmage to get us in to better situations. Sometimes I’d wonder what in the world he was doing on his checks and I’d second-guess him, but it would end up being the right play. We won the championship his senior year and Matt just had a competitiveness that was rare.
JJ: What’s your best memory of Matt off the field?
BM: He just had a presence about him; the underclassmen and his teammates really respected him. He hasn’t changed at all either. He’s a great guy; he really is. He hasn’t let the fame get to the heart of who he is.
JJ: You said he had a competitiveness that’s rare; explain that.
BM: Oh man sometimes our assistants would do free-throw shooting drills with him or do groundball competitions with him and he’d do anything he could to win. They played for Snapple! The simplest things he just hates to lose at them. And he usually left he competition drinking Snapple!
JJ: When did you know he’d be a pro?
BM: When you look back at his numbers they weren’t great because we didn’t throw the ball all over the field; we had a really good running game. We were more balanced. I’d say we knew his junior year that he’d be a tremendous college player. I don’t know if I can say that I knew he’d be in the NFL, but we knew he’d excel at the next level. Going to BC was great for him because he found himself in a pro-style offense. He grew and he learned and he worked hard. He developed into a kid that can play and have success on Sundays. That’s a testament to him.
JJ: Word is he was a monster on the basketball court?
BM: Oh yeah; see what most people don’t know is that Matt was a three-sport athlete all four years and team captain of all three sports in his senior year. He played basketball, football and baseball. He was definitely good in basketball! I think he may have loved basketball best when he was younger before he started to focus on football. He was good; he played small forward and he could really play. I think he could’ve excelled there too. Could he have been a pro? I definitely wouldn’t count him out. In baseball he was a shortstop and he did some pitching.
JJ: What’s Matt’s hidden talent?
BM: He’s a really good guitarist! He can actually play really, really well.
JJ: Is Matt a Hall of Fame quarterback?
BM: I absolutely believe that, from what I know of Matt Ryan and his ability, as long as he continues to stay the course and improve on the things that he’s aware he needs to improve on, barring injury, he’s a Hall of Famer. No question.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY