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.
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.
Recently we caught up with New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham’s high school coach at Isidore Newman (New Orleans, La.) Nelson Stewart.
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of Odell on the field?
Nelson Stewart: Just his explosiveness. He’s the only athlete I’ve ever coached where you had to totally be as creative as possible to just get him the ball and get out of the way.
JJ: What’s your best memory of Odell off the field?
NS: His work ethic. No one worked harder than him. He never went half speed in anything. It was almost an obsession with him how hard he worked.
JJ: What personality was he on the team?
NS: Just playful. He was a really popular kid. I don’t think I ever saw Odell by himself. He was probably the most popular kid we’ve ever had. He always knew how to keep it light and fun. Everyone loved him. No one didn’t like the guy and off the field he never liked the spotlight.
JJ: So it must shock you now that he’s so polarizing?
NS: Yes, it does because he’s literally the most humble guy in the locker room. He never cared about stats, he really just wanted to win championships. That’s it. I think he’s misunderstood. A lot of times his passion and his competitiveness can come out the wrong way, but his coaches and teammates love him. I loved to see him get MVP of the Giants.
JJ: What’s the craziest thing you can remember from his recruitment?
NS: We went to a lot of 7-on-7 turnovers and I remember he made this crazy one-handed catch in the back of the end zone against Karr to win the game. I couldn’t even get to him because all of the kids from all of the schools watching the game jumped on him. After that LSU was all over him. Les Miles was trailing him all over the place. You could never overthrow Odell. You couldn’t even touch him, literally. It wasn’t fair. It was like a video game. That’s when the recruitment went to the crazy level.
JJ: When it’s all said and done is Odell Beckham going to be a Hall of Famer?
NS: Without question, if he stays on this path, he will be. The one thing I know is that he’s gonna work hard for it. His performances will never be good enough for him and he’ll always be pushing himself for more. I think, if he stays healthy, yes he will be. I think he’ll be one of the all-time greats. I always tell him to stay humble and stay hungry and I know that’s what he’s gonna do.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY