This marks the 30th anniversary of USA TODAY recognizing the nation's top high school athletes. As we prepare to unveil the 2012 American Family Insurance ALL-USA Football Team at the end of the season, we'll dig into the archives and check in with ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades. Today, we kick things off by catching up with the very first ALL-USA Offensive Player of the Year.
John Paye found out he was USA TODAY Sports’ first high school football Offensive Player of the Year the same time everyone else did in 1982.
“I went to McDonald’s and got a Big Mac, a milk shake and fries and bought a USA TODAY,” Paye said. “I’m reading it, and oh my God, I was in it. That’s how I found out I made that team.”
Paye’s diet has changed in the 30 years since, but his connection to sports hasn’t.
He was a three-sport star at Menlo School (Atherton, Calif.), setting national records by passing for 7,647 yards and 80 touchdowns in three seasons. He also was the point guard on Menlo’s 1983 state championship basketball team. He was good enough as a shortstop to be drafted in 1983, his senior year, by the San Francisco Giants.
These days, he’s doing his best to ensure there will be other three-sport athletes. Paye, 47, runs a multisport facilty in San Carlos, Calif., called Paye’s Place and is the varsity girls basketball coach and assistant football coach at Menlo.
“It’s frustrating for me to see so many of these kids not play basketball because they want to play baseball,” Paye said. “I’m still a big believer there are transferable skills between sports, such as the ability to learn and compete at different sports allows you to be that much more a competitor.”
Paye went from the preps to college to the pros without leaving the Bay Area. His father, John Sr., had been a running back at Stanford and Paye also signed at Stanford, where he was the last Division I athlete to start as a freshman in basketball and football.
“Today’s college sports scene, whether it’s the major sports or even the minor sports, it’s full-time,” Paye said. “The problem is there’s so much pressure on getting a scholarship, that athletes shy from playing other sports to be a complete player.”
Despite five arm surgeries in college, he set Stanford passing records and was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 1987. He played only two seasons as the 49ers’ third-string quarterback behind two future Hall of Famers.
“Joe Montana and Steve Young would always complain to me that the other guy was getting all the reps in practice,” Paye said. “I was lucky to get two reps. I didn’t get to throw too many passes, but I got a Super Bowl ring and all those experiences that go with it. When John Taylor caught the winning touchdown (in Super Bowl XXIII against Cincinnati), I was on the sideline, right next to coach Bill Walsh. Before the game, I got to stand next to Christie Brinkley, who was there because Billy Joel (her husband at the time) was singing the national anthem.”
When he was cut by the 49ers, he began coaching girls basketball at Menlo, winning three consecutive state Division V titles from 1989-91, while coaching his younger sister Kate. She went on to play in the WNBA and is now an assistant at Stanford. Though he left Menlo to coach elsewhere after seven years, he returned in 2008.
“My football career wasn’t as long as I hoped it would be,” Paye said. “A lot of athletes get into coaching or promotional work just to stay closer to sports. Maybe if I had played 15 years in the NFL, I may have wanted to get out.”