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 Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston’s high school coach at Statesboro (Statesboro, Ga.) Steve Pennington.
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of Justin on the field?
Steve Pennington: We were playing in the Georgia Dome in the state semis and he literally held down the left side of the football field on defense all night long. I mean he held it down all by himself. It was just amazing. We were playing an undefeated team and they were really, really good, but Justin was just dominant. That was his coming out party. He built a big wall over there that night.
JJ: What’s your best memory of Justin off the field?
SP: When he committed to Georgia and had already signed his letter-of-intent, I remember vividly as a senior how much harder he worked after that. I mean I really remember how much work he put in. His Statesboro High days were basically over, but he went so hard. He didn’t get “senior-itis” he actually became way more self-motivated because he wanted to be the best that he could be.
JJ: What personality was Justin on your team?
SP: He knew how to have a good time; very jovial, but also knew when it was time to be serious. He could make you laugh but he could also get on you and be serious. He was really mature because these jokers I deal with today don’t know that at all.
JJ: What’s the craziest story you can recall from his recruitment?
SP: Justin was so low key throughout the whole process; I think Georgia was in his heart the whole time so there wasn’t a whole lot of activity. He was a Georgia boy!
JJ: Rumor has it that he was actually a great point guard?
SP: That joker could do the deal on the basketball court; let me tell you! Think about how big he is and to be able to play point guard at that size is remarkable. You’ve gotta be a heck of an athlete to do that. He could really, really handle that ball and he could break the press by himself. His senior year he had to play the point because no one else could get the ball up the court. I even planted a seed up there at Georgia telling him to play for them. He toyed around with it a little. If anyone could’ve played two sports it would’ve been Justin. I think he would’ve been productive for the basketball team too.
JJ: Did you always know he’d be a high-level pro?
SP: Well, I would have to say yes because we knew he had a great shot at getting to the next level mainly for the reason I said before; he had a great work ethic. I mean no one outworked Justin and we knew that it would go to an even higher level at Georgia. I think it’ll take him to an even higher level in the NFL too. Just watch.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY