Editor’s note: With Calvin Johnson’s retirement being announced Tuesday, USA TODAY High School Sports is revisiting an Athlete Look Back, we did with his high school coach in Georgia during the 2013 football season.
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 athletes 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 Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson’s high school coach at Sandy Creek (Tyrone, Ga.) Chip Walker.
Jason Jordan: So apparently your former player Calvin Johnson is pretty good; 14 catches for 329 yards last weekend, the most ever in a regulation NFL game. What was your best memory of Calvin on the field?
Chip Walker: The best one that pops in my mind was when we were playing Woodward Academy, which was our rival back then, and they were beating us pretty much the whole game. We came back and we needed a touchdown late in the game and we threw a not-so-great pass to Calvin, who somehow wraps himself around the defensive back and kinda undercuts him somehow. I don’t even know how he did it, but he caught it for a touchdown to tie the game up. Then we scored in overtime and won the game. That was when he was a junior. That was a really special play.
JJ: When did you know he’d be great?
CW: Between his sophomore and junior year; by that time he really matured and grew into his body. That’s when we knew he’d be really special.
JJ: What’s something we’d be shocked to know about Calvin?
CW: Well, he comes back and does his wide receiver camp over the summer at our place every year. So at the end of the camp this summer they’re all loading the truck back up with all of the tables and chairs and everything and I look over and see Calvin right there loading things up too. Now most people wouldn’t think a guy on his level would do that type of work. That’s what makes him a special person. That’s just how he is.
JJ: What personality was he on the high school team?
CW: He was always the quiet guy that just did his work.
JJ: Got any wacky recruiting stories from his high school days?
CW: Nothing too crazy. He was that guy who really didn’t like all that attention. I do remember one time after school walking into the cafeteria and there were seven Georgia coaches standing there waiting to talk to him. That was pretty wild.
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JJ: Does he amaze you with all of the things he’s accomplishing?
CW: Oh yeah! It’s amazing to watch because he’s an amazing player, but we’ve been seeing these great plays for years. We used to have a top five list of catches for Calvin when he was here. Then he goes to Tech and he makes greater plays there like the Spiderman catch. He’s always outdoing himself. Always going higher. I’m just excited to see what he does next.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY