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.
Periodically 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.
Today I caught up with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s high school coach at Findlay (Findlay, Ohio) Cliff Hite, now a state senator in Ohio.
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of Ben on the field back in high school?
Cliff Hite: That’s easy. We were playing a school in Week 6 and they scored with 33 seconds left in the game to go up four. We needed a touchdown. They kicked off and we ran it back to about the 30-yard line. We didn’t have any timeouts and he threw two bombs; one got us to their 30, the second one scored and there were 1.8 seconds left on the clock. That helped us get to the playoffs that year.
JJ: What’s your best memory of Ben off the field back then?
CH: Probably watching him in other sports.
JJ: Besides football, what was his best sport?
CH: He was the most incredible point guard that I’ve ever seen; oh my gosh! He was our all-time leading scorer in high school. If a small guy was guarding him he’d take it inside and if a bigger guy was on him he’d go right by him. Basketball was his favorite sport at the time, but in the fall of his senior year, after we got done with 7-on-7, he told me, “I think football might be my ticket outta here.” I said, “Ya think!”
JJ: Could he have played high major Division I hoops?
CH: I think so for sure. I know Miami asked him to, but the football coaches didn’t want him to.
JJ: What’s the craziest story you can remember from his recruitment?
CH: Probably that he got recruited by Duke and got shown around the campus by Grant Hill. When he came back he was all excited about these basketball guys that he met, but he went there on a football visit. I know he really considered Duke, but they were too far away.
JJ: What personality was he on your team?
CH: Oh when they do a movie about him later in life, Will Ferrell should play Ben Roethlisberger! Ben was one of the funniest guys I’ve ever coached. I mean he had a blast playing the game. Great practical joker too!
JJ: What was his best practical joke?
CH: He’d pickpocket me for my practice plans and hide them in his helmet. I’d be looking around all over for my plans and everybody would be laughing and he’d be cracking up. Then I’d pat him down and eventually he’d take off his helmet and hand them to me. He had a lot of fun. When he got to the NFL I told people that he really reminded me of Brett Favre in the way he really had a ball out there playing the game.
JJ: Obviously, he has had to deal with injuries, are you confident he’ll always come back strong?
CH: He’s the kind of person that will come back from that injury and take his team to the Super Bowl. That’s who he is. I’m telling you, he’ll come back before how long they say he’ll be out.
JJ: When it’s all said and done, is Big Ben a Hall of Famer?
CH: Oh sure. I mean anyone that’s been to three Super Bowls, won two, has to be in the consideration. And he’s not done! Then the fact that he’s been tearing up the league with passing yards the last few years. Nobody’s ever thrown six touchdown passes two weeks in a row. I think there will be a lot of things like that that will get him in there.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY