10 NFL Players That Were Already Legends in High School

  • A.J. Green

    WR, Cincinnati Bengals

    Summerville (SC) High School, 2008

    Even the greatest high school receivers don’t always produce great stats. Chalk it up to shorter schedules, shorter games, run-heavy offenses, inconsistent quarterbacks, or a combination of all of the above. Whatever the cause, you can count Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, and Victor Cruz among the elite pro receivers who didn’t crack 1,000 yards as high school seniors.

    A.J. Green, on the other hand, put up big numbers from the moment he first suited up for Summerville HS until he left as one of the most productive receivers in national prep history. As a freshman, Green caught 57 balls for 1,217 yards and eight touchdowns. That was his worst season in high school. Green’s 5,373 career receiving yards rank second all time in the National Federation of High Schools record book, and his 279 receptions rank fourth. His streak of 1,000-yard seasons was finally snapped in his freshman year at Georgia (a mere 963 yards), but he was still good enough to go pro after his junior year and become the go-to guy in the Bengals’ offense.

    1 of 10
  • De'Anthony Thomas

    WR/KR, Kansas City Chiefs

    Crenshaw High School (Los Angeles, CA), 2011

    When people talk about football players resembling something out of a video game, usually they’re talking about a football video game. At Crenshaw HS, Thomas was more like Sonic the Hedgehog in shoulder pads.

    Depending on who you asked, Thomas was either the best running back in his high school class, the best cornerback, or just the best athlete, pure and simple. As a senior he averaged 11.4 yards per rush, 22.4 yards per catch, and 24 yards per interception return. Throw in the kick returns that evoked Usain Bolt more than Devin Hester, and Thomas seemed to make a big play every time he touched the ball in high school.

    Thomas took his football and track talents to Oregon, where he was college football’s most electrifying player and a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate. It speaks to Thomas’ talent that despite his small stature (5-8) and “tweener” status position-wise, the Chiefs are doing whatever they can to get him on the field as much as possible.

    2 of 10
  • Jadeveon Clowney

    OLB, Houston Texans

    South Pointe High School (Rock Hill, SC), 2011

    College football fans remember Clowney’s famous de-helmeting of a Michigan ball-carrier in the 2013 Outback Bowl–a frighteningly quick strike made for GIFs and Vine. But there’s another legendary play on the Clowney highlight reel, one from his time at South Pointe HS, that takes much longer to develop:

    Lined up at defensive end, Clowney swims past his blocker and is in the opposing QB’s face in a blink. Fortunately for that QB, he’d already handed the ball off. By the time Clowney locates his new target, the speedy tailback has a 10-yard head start. Clowney pursues, and about 45 yards later brings down his man just as he’s getting past South Pointe’s last line of defense. Even more than the Outback Bowl hit, this play showcased Clowney’s defensive dominance.

    Clowney’s high school stats were equally legendary; as a senior he posted 162 tackles, 29.5 sacks, 11 forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, and five defensive touchdowns, plus he ran for nine more TDs as a part-time running back. He was named national Defensive Player of the Year by some outlets and ranked the No. 1 player in the country by others. After adding to his mystique at the University of South Carolina, he was picked No. 1 in the NFL Draft.

    3 of 10
  • LeSean McCoy

    RB, Buffalo Bills

    Bishop McDevitt High School (Harrisburg, PA) 2006

    The most incredible part of McCoy’s high school career is that he almost lost it all at once.

    Going into his senior year at Bishop McDevitt HS, McCoy was on pace to become the leading rusher in Pennsylvania history–a state that has produced Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin, Leroy Kelly, Eddie George, Ricky Watters, and Mercury Morris. Through the first three games of the season McCoy racked up more than 800 yards, but in the fourth game he suffered a broken ankle that ended his season and almost took him off the radar as a coveted prospect.

    McCoy recovered, transferred to Milford Academy prep school in New York, regained the form that made him a legend in the first place, and made it back home by choosing to play for the University of Pittsburgh before getting drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles.

    4 of 10
  • Jonathan Stewart

    RB, Carolina Panthers

    Timberline High School (Lacey, WA), 2005

    Having grown up in the state of Washington, I don’t need to look up any stats to confirm this one. Stewart was the Herschel Walker of the Pacific Northwest, a power runner with track speed who challenged the limits of what we thought possible for a high school athlete. Reading about Stewart’s exploits in the local paper was like getting a comic book delivered to your doorstep every Saturday morning with a new superhero story inside.

    If you need numbers, though: As a freshman, Stewart rushed for 1,279 yards and averaged 13.5 yards per carry. As a sophomore, he missed half the season with injuries and still ran for 1,609 yards. As a junior, he ran for 2,566 yards and 45 touchdowns. And then, clearly suffering from a case of senioritis, he ran for a mere 2,301 yards and 32 TDs–including one game in which he piled up 422 yards and nine TDs. By the time he signed with the University of Oregon, Stewart was Washington’s all-time leading rusher with 7,755 career yards and 105 touchdowns.

    5 of 10
  • Matthew Stafford

    QB, Detroit Lions

    Highland Park High School (Dallas, TX), 2006

    Clayton Kershaw, the 2014 National League Cy Young winner and NL Most Valuable Player, arguably the best pitcher in baseball, played at Highland Park HS. And he wasn’t even the most legendary athlete in his own yearbook.

    That title goes to Stafford, the QB with the golden arm who capped his prep career by leading Highland Park to a Texas 4A state title and an undefeated season while throwing for over 4,000 yards and 38 touchdowns.

    Kershaw did beat his childhood friend in one category–making it to the pros first when the Dodgers drafted him right out of high school. Stafford had to put in some time at the University of Georgia, but he was later picked No. 1 in the 2009 NFL Draft.

    6 of 10
  • Patrick Peterson

    CB, Arizona Cardinals

    Ely High School (Pompano Beach, FL), 2008

    Because they’re such great athletes, many of the NFL’s top defensive backs were primarily offensive players in high school who maybe did a little double-duty on defense.

    Peterson is a little different. He played some running back and returned some kicks at Ely HS, but his first job was shutting down opposing offenses. Maybe it was that full-time focus on D that made Peterson (known as Patrick Johnson back then) so much better than everyone else and led to his being named USA Today national Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.

    7 of 10
  • Terrelle Pryor

    QB/WR, Cleveland Browns

    Jeannette (PA) High School, 2008

    If anyone can play quarterback for five years in the NFL and successfully switch to receiver over the course of one training camp, it’s Pryor–one of the most versatile athletes to step onto a football field in recent memory.

    Pryor was not only the No. 1 QB and the No. 1 overall ranked player in the national Class of 2008, but he was also a four-star basketball recruit–a 6-6 small forward who had elite hoop programs like UConn, North Carolina, and NC State recruiting him along with the traditional football powers. On the football field, Pryor led Jeannette HS to its first Pennsylvania state title and finished with over 4,000 yards rushing and 4,000 yards passing in his career before going to Ohio State.

    8 of 10
  • Seantrel Henderson

    OT, Buffalo Bills

    Cretin-Derham High School (St. Paul, MN), 2010

    It’s been a few years since he was the talk of high school football, but if I recall correctly, the book on Henderson read something like this: He could stand in front of a tidal wave and prevent his quarterback from getting wet. He didn’t just create holes big enough for a Mack truck to drive through; he could use his 6-7, 310-pound body to move another Mack truck out of the way to create those holes.

    The hype was that strong for Henderson, the O-lineman every college wanted (also a basketball and track star) who would’ve had more support than any player in the past decade had he tried to go to the NFL straight from high school.

    Henderson became the first lineman to win USA Today’s national Offensive Player of the Year award, and the first lineman to win Minnesota state Player of the Year. Injuries and disciplinary issues marred his college career at Miami, but he’s managed to turn a seventh-round draft selection into a starting right tackle job for the Bills.

    9 of 10
  • Tim Tebow

    QB, Philadelphia Eagles

    Nease High School (Ponte Verda, FL), 2010

    In Florida, it’s known as the Tim Tebow Law. No, it’s not the one that dictates all sports media must overreact to everything Tim Tebow does; but instead it’s the ruling that allows home-schooled students to compete in sports for the high school nearest to them.

    The biggest winner in that ruling was Nease HS, who hit the jackpot by landing Tebow. He was a two-time Florida state Player of the Year, led Nease to a state title, earned All-America recognition, and was featured by ESPN and Sports Illustrated before moving on to the University of Florida. One Heisman, two national titles, one unforgettable NFL playoff run, and “Tebowmania” have since come to define the legend of Tebow, but it really started for him in high school.

    10 of 10
  • A.J. Green high school
  • De
  • Jadeveon Clowney high school
  • LeSean McCoy high school
  • Jonathan Stewart high school
  • Matthew Stafford high school
  • Patrick Peterson high school
  • Terrelle Pryor high school
  • Seantrel Henderson high school

Of the three million or so athletes around the world playing organized American football, only a select 2,800 or so get the honor each year of officially being on an NFL training camp roster. Which means that every single NFL player–even the guys who will be getting cut between now and the regular season opener–can rightfully and deservedly be described as one of the best football players in the world.

It makes sense, then, that every NFL player who played college football was a star in college. And every NFL player who played high school football was a superstar in high school. As we often have to repeat to the uneducated around the country: Listen, even the worst player that you see playing on TV isn’t bad. In fact, the last guy to make the roster or the last guy in off the bench could go anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world, and completely dominate.

But among these superstars is an exclusive class of men who are high school football legends. Not just in the halls of their alma maters, or in the towns and cities they called home, or in the states in which they competed for titles. They are legends known across the U.S., the source of mythical tales and viral highlight clips shared by the scouts who ranked them, the coaches who recruited them, and the fans who admired them.

Some of these players might eventually become legends in the NFL. Here are 10 NFL Players That Were Already Legends in High School.

Follow Amaar on Twitter at @AmaarAbdulNasir

image via Sporting News Archive/Getty Images