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 New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning’s high school coach at Isidore Newman (New Orleans) Frank Gendusa.
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of Eli on the field in high school?
Frank Gendusa: The first time we had to start Eli during his freshman year and it was really special. I had a disciplinary issue with my starting quarterback and Eli got the nod. It was against a rival of ours, and he didn’t really do anything out of the ordinary, but he stayed within himself and he got the team to play and rally around him. I always remember that; a baby faced freshman stepped right in and got us a big win.
JJ: When did you know he’d be, not just a pro, but legendary pro?
FG: Probably in middle school; that’s when I first started to see him and he just had the same composure as Peyton and the same confidence. The biggest difference between the two of them was Eli was a lot quieter. He wasn’t the kind of leader that was constantly talking or riding people. His style was to go out and perform and bring everyone up to his level.
JJ: What’s one of the most memorable moments from his recruitment?
FG: Eli didn’t like the recruiting aspect at all. He was way different than Peyton. He decided a lot earlier than Peyton because he wanted to put it behind him. That’s just how he is.
JJ: Are you shocked that Eli has more Superbowl rings than Peyton.
FG: No, not really. I feel like his wins were destined. I’ve never seen teams win the way his teams won. When Peyton was in high school he had a little better supporting cast than when Eli played, but they both had it in them. They were both special and it was really obvious. A lot of people ask me if I taught them how to throw and I quickly said no. What I did was try and setup an offense and put people around them to allow them to be successful.
JJ: What is something people would be shocked to know about Eli?
FG: He was probably the most well-liked kid in the school. I mean he had a lot of friends. A lot. He was just more laid back and mellow. We nicknamed him “Easy” because he never let anything bother him. When he went to New York one of the biggest questions was: “Can he handle all of that pressure in that major market?” I always told people if anyone could survive that it was Eli. He has never let things like that bother him. He’s been that way ever since he was little.
JJ: Does he amaze you with all the things he’s accomplishing?
FG: No, I’m so proud of Eli. You’ve gotta remember he’s the third brother and he’s gotta follow in his dad’s footsteps then his brother’s footsteps and comes in and makes his own niche. It doesn’t surprise me because he’s always been successful. I’m very proud of how he’s handled everything and how his success has been really been self driven.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY