This marks the 30th anniversary of USA TODAY recognizing the nation's top high school athletes. As we prepare to unveil the 30th Anniversary American Family Insurance ALL-USA Football Team next week, we'll dig into the archives and check in with ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades.
When Alonzo Highsmith made the first American Family All-USA high school football team in 1982, it was at defensive end, not running back, the position he would play at Miami and for seven seasons in the NFL with the then-Houston Oilers, Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Once bad knees forced him to leave football in 1992, it took him a while to figure out what his career position would be. For a few years, he tried professional boxing, amassing a 27-1 record with 23 knockouts as a heavyweight.
"Boxing was fun and at the time, I really didn't know what I wanted to do after football," Highsmith said.
In 1999, with the help of former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf, Highsmith got back into football as a scout. One of his biggest successes as a scout is seeing something in cornerback Tramon Williams that the Houston Texans didn't. Highsmith was named the NFL's Scout of the Year in 2011 and was promoted to senior personnel executive last May. He has frequently been mentioned as a potential NFL general manager.
"I think the biggest thing players have to understand is once you retire from playing football, you have to put that same effort that you put into playing to be successful at whatever you do," said Highsmith, 47. "No one is going to hand you anything. You have to earn it."
While he understood the game as a player, Highsmith said he had a lot to learn as far as evaluating talent.
"When I got into scouting, I had to understand football from a different aspect of building a team," he said. "You have to think about what kind of athlete you wanted on the team. After doing that for 15 years, you see things. A kid who reminds you of Donald Driver or Greg Jennings. You build a memory bank."
One of his sons, Alonzo, Jr., just finished his senior season as a linebacker at Arkansas and is preparing for the NFL draft. Another son, A.J., started seven games as a junior safety at Miami this past season.
"It's tough watching them play," Highsmith said. "I tell them, 'You have to do this for yourself. I don't need you to play football for me.' The most important thing I tell them is, 'I want you known as a better person, not just as a football player. Who you are as a person and your DNA is designed by your work ethic.'"
Follow Jim Halley on Twitter @JimHalley.