As the "Super Bowl" nears, actually tomorrow, two former Ohio high school players got my attention this week. Alex Boone and Donte Whitner are success stories. But I also think that I have to show some love for TE Garrett Celek, WR Ted Ginn Jr, and injured WR Mario Manningham.
Alex Boone. I was never a big Alex Boone fan. Watched him from his sophomore year and on at Lakewood St Edward High School. Huge and really athletic for a 6'7-295(at that time) high school player. Watching him, I thought that he took plays off and did not finish plays. Of course, he was huge and would get highly recruited. At times, I questioned his aggressiveness. Later to be proven at an allstar game practice. Always thought that if he ever "got it," he would play on Sundays.
In what little of I saw of him at practices at O-State, I was still concerned about his practice habits. Also knew that he had some personal issues that he was dealing with as a college student. Alex got into some trouble right before the NFL draft. Although I do not believe that that incident alone sealed his fate, he was not drafted. The 49ers took a chance. Starting as a practice squad player, he worked his way to the starting RG position for the 49ers. Tomorrow, he will probably make more money than I will as I watch the game.
Learning point. Alcohol is a very serious deal. Some people can handle it, some cannot. I applaude Alex Boone. I hope he "gets it." Young football players, I realize alcohol and marijuana is almost the "norm" on a college campus. But remember - some people can handle it, some cannot. Right now, Alex Boone is handling his problem.
Donte Whitner. He came out of Cleveland Glenville High School as one of the "toughness pound for pound guys" that I had seen and still have seen. Short, but cut and really hard nosed. Scholarship to Ohio State and was drafted by the Buffalo Bills. After I think, five years with Bills, he went to the 49ers. Preceded to get hurt. Fought back and now is a mainstay on the 49ers defense. With Donte, toughness was never an issue. Explosiveness was never an issue. Determination was never an issue. Getting into the right fit was an issue. Listed at 5'10-205, he may see 5'10 once in a while. Possibly one of the toughest strong safeties in the business. Excellent run stopper. Not the tallest strong safety in the NFL, but at 5'9, one of the toughest.
Learning point. John Cooper always said that "It is not the size of the dog, but the size of the fight in the dog." Of course, toughness and determination does not guarantee a scholarship, but if you do not have it, you may not have a chance. Whitner has all of that and more. I hear from so many young players who are concerned that lack of size will hurt their chances for a scholarship. Donte proved different, but he was a tough competitor. There is a place for the "short guy" in college football, but you better have the "it" factor.
Garrett Celek. For a long time he was known as former UC star Brent Celek's younger brother. Brent played tight end at Cincinnati LaSalle High School and went on to the University of Cincinnati. Actually, he came into his own at UC, but has developed into one of the better TE's in the NFL. Garrett Celek was offered a scholarship to Michigan State. He was a long 6'5-225 offensive lineman coming out of LaSalle High School. Honestly, part of his getting that scholarship was due to the huge respect that Mark Dantonio had for the Celek's. While at Michigan State, he was moved to tight end, but he did not see a lot of playing time. Garrett made the practice squad for the 49ers.
The advice that his older brother kept giving him was short and simple. "Keep working hard and keep getting better." He had some catches for the 49ers this past season. Four in one game from his tight end position. Also he has become an important member of the special teams units.
Learning point. Of course he is 6'5, but at 225, played offensive tackle in high school. Went to Michigan State and made the move to tight end. Continued to work hard, but did make a lot of catches and saw limited playing time. Kept working hard and made the practice squad for the 49ers. Hard work paid off. A back up TE, but an important special teams guy. "Keep working hard and keep getting better."
Ted Ginn Jr. may be one of the fastest and most explosive high school football players who I have evaluated over the years. At Glenville High School he played some wide receiver and played alot of quarterback. At Ohio State, he played wide receiver and developed into one of the best returners of all time. Did not have great hands and was kind of a long strider. Was not a great route runner. BUT when he caught the short pass, he was a threat to go the distance. In fact, every time he touched the ball, he could go the distance. Now with the 49ers, he plays much the same role. His game is running with the football in his hands. Injuries have set him back some, but to a speed guy they are more noticeable. Drafted high in the first round by the Dolphins put alot of pressure on him to perform. Maybe some of the same weaknesses as a receiver at O-State hurt him with the Dolphins. Plus the Dolphins are a bad organiztion. Contributing in many ways. Ted will be on the flatscreen Sunday night.
Learning point. When you are blessed with speed and good size, alot of doors will open. Of course. some players are blessed with speed, others have to develop their speed. Ted Ginn Jr works hard as a ball catcher, but is not a natural. Find what you do best as an athlete and really fine tune that skill. But spend as much time working on your weakness. If a ball carrier does not have top end speed, but has a tremendous first three steps, he should keep working on his top speed, but do what he does best and that is hit the hole as fast as you can. Find your strength.
Mario Manningham. I njured and will not play in the Super Bowl Sunday night. From Warren Harding High School, he is one of the best receivers when fighting for the ball. Strong hands. Very physical. I always felt that he needed to be more consistent. Needed to concentrate more. But when it came to a big play, he usually made the catch. One of my greatest memories of Mario was at an Ohio State summer camp. He was destroying defenders in one on one pass drills. I looked at Coach Tressel and said, " Any chance?" Coach said, " No." Mario had committed to Michigan earlier that spring.
Learning point. Always thought Mario was guilty of getting "caught up in himself" too much at times. Believe this affected his concentration and performance. Not nearly as much as the receiver who played at Michigan and then was drafted by the Browns, but Mario needed to focus much better.
Not a speed guy, but fast enough. As a wide receiver, concentration is essential. Catching the ball in traffic is a must. "Getting caught up in yourself," hurts any athlete in any sport.
As I wrote this blog, I recalled many pleasant memories watching young men play high school football in Ohio. They deserve much credit. I am an Ohio high school guy and really enjoy watching young men do well and serve as role models. All of these guys have a message for high school football players.
By the way, the Ravens do not have any players with Ohio high school backgrounds (that I can find). John Harbaugh and I go back to his days as a college coach, but I may have to cheer for the 49ers, because they have those Ohio high school guys.