Talent Hot Beds of America February 25 2018, 1 Comment
The fabric of America is not a spiraling city metropolis, rather it’s small towns. Some of sports biggest icons are natives of small towns. Michael Jordan, Jim Thorpe, Pele, Jerry Rice, Bo Jackson, and Wayne Gretzky all grew up in places with fewer than 60,000 residents. About 25 percent of the United States population resides in cities with under 50,000 people, but nearly half of the players in the NFL are from areas that size. The trend is less significant but continues into the NHL (39 percent), MLB (38 percent), NBA (28 percent) and PGA tour (50%).
How are small towns able to produce an abundance of talent? It could be the cultural importance placed on sports in the community. It could be a chance to get away from their rural environments. It all got us to wondering, what small towns produce the best pro sports talent? We take a look at our 12 favorite.
The Muck, Florida
Pahokeee, a small town in southeastern Florida is home to 5,600 residents. The closest town, Belle Glade has a population of 17,000 residents. Together these two communities are known as “The Muck”. They hold a unique tradition that is something out of a comic book. Located on the eastern southern coast of Florida. The cities have a rough reputation and both cities are well below the poverty line. While it may lack state funding and a solid infrastructure, it does posses a legendary football legacy. Two school’s Glades Central and Pahokeee, have sent at least 48 players to NFL over the last four decades. Pahokeee has won five state championships in last 6 years, Glades central has won six since 1971. Each year the Muck Bowl is decided between Glades Central and Pahokeee high. While the game is for bragging rights, it symbolizes much more.
Many wonder why Pahokeee & Glades could produce the ridiculous number of NFL players it does. Sugar Cane fields spread right up to the levees of Lake Okeechobee, known as the Muck for its dark rich soil and three feet of coffee grounds. Pahokeee holds a unique football tradition each year, they burn the sugar cane harvest, the burn drives the rabbits out of the fields. During the burning, players from the city will come out and try to catch the rabbits. If they catch a certain number of rabbits (45 in one day) they are fast enough to be a position player for the football team. Many think the tradition provides a quick separation of the players and non-players. Anquan Bolding, Janoris Jenkins, Perneell McPhee, Antone Smith, Bill Bently, Rickey Jackson and Andre Water have all chased the rabbits. Adidas made an ad campaign based around the cities rabbit chasing tradition (which can be seen here).
The Muck has a reputation for producing tough no-nonsense players. NFL hall of fame linebacker Ricky Jackson may have been the first star of “The Muck”. The 4x All-Pro selection attended Pahokee high school before going on to Pittsburgh. As a member of the New Orleans Saints he was a member of the famed “Dome Patrol”.
Four time pro bowl running back Fred Taylor was born in Pahokee and attended Glades Central. Taylor initially played linebacker, but switched to running back in his junior season. As a senior, he ran for 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns. Taylor played at the University of Florida before being drafted in the 1st round with the 9th overall pick.
In an area known for producing receivers, Anquan Boldin may have been the best. The future Hall of Fame wide receiver stared at Pahokee high from 1993 to 1995. Boldin caught for over 14,000 yards in his NFL career and has stared in 2 Superbowl's.
Superbowl champion Santonio Holmes also attended Glades Central high school. He was a Letterman in football, basketball, and track. In football, he helped lead his team to two state titles and a 12-1 record as a senior. Santonio graduated from Glades Central High School in 2002 before winning a National Championship at Ohio State. During his pro career he produced over 6,000 receiving yards and 36 touchdowns in 9 seasons.
Recently star cornerback, Janoris Jenkins stared for The Muck. He caught the rabbit in 2006 before being drafted by the Rams in 2012.
Kelvin Benjamin was originally a basketball player, before he took up football his junior season. Everyone was impressed with Benjamin, at a camp Randy Moss told him he reminded him of himself at the same age. Benjamin played 3 seasons at Florida State before being drafted in the first round.
Other elite football players that come out of “The Muck” include Alphonso Smith drafted in 2009, Kevin Bouie in 1995, Eric Moore in 2005, Pernell McPhee in 2011, Dwight Bentley in 2012.
Winston grew up in Bessemer and played his high school football at nearby Hueytown High School. As a high school senior, Winston threw for 2,424 yards and 28 touchdowns. And ran for another 1,065 yards and 15 TDs as a senior. As a redshirt freshman, Winston won the 2013 Heisman Trophy with Florida State. The next season he led his team to the 2014 BCS National Title and a 14-0 record. He went 26-1 as the starting quarterback at Florida State. True to his roots, Winston held a draft night party in Bessemer, rather than attend the NFL Draft in Chicago.
Before he was the most famous athlete on earth, Bo Jackson called the city home. He attended school in McAadory, where he rushed for 1175 yards as a running back as a high school senior. Jackson hit twenty home runs in 25 games for McAdory's baseball team during his senior season. Bo was also a two-time state champion in the decathlon, in which he built up such a commanding lead that he never had to compete in the 1500 meter race of event. In 1982, Jackson set state school records for indoor high jump (6'9") and triple jump (48’8").
Beside the two Heisman winners, Bessemer has produced a ton of football talent. DeMeco Ryans attended Jess Lanier High. In his senior season, he had 135 tackles, 11 sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions. Ryans eventually played college football for the University of Alabama, and received unanimous All-American honors. He was chosen by the Houston Texans in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft. In Houston, he was named the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2006, he was also selected to two Pro Bowls.
Jerome Rhodes was a starting quarterback and honor student at Jess Lanier High in Bessemer. During his senior season, Rhodes threw for more than 1,600 yards and ran for another 850. He was also selected first team All-state in basketball, after he led his team to the 6A title game. He was drafted by the New York Jets in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Rhodes was named to All-Pro teams by three publications after the 2006 NFL season. If that’s not enough, rap legend Gucci Man hails from Bessemer.
A town of 48,000 people, halfway between Dayton and Cincinnati. Bleak and gloomy weather burden the city, that was once famous for it’s steel production. During the 1950’s and 60’s it was one of the best basketball cities in America. Their outdoor court “Sunset Park” was home to some of the most legendary street games of all time, featuring future pros like Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas. Hundreds of fans lined the court to watch the area’s greatest high school and college players. Middletown high school had already won five state championships from 1945–55. Residents have taken pride in its plethora of amazing athletes that have been born and raised in the city.
By the time he was 15, Sunset Park was one of the best summer basketball scenes in the midwest. By then, Jerry Lucas had grown to 6'7" and had the opportunity to scrimmage against college players, improving his game significantly. He led the 1956 Middletown team to an undefeated season and co-national high school champion. The 1956–57 team also went undefeated and won the Ohio state title. By then, Lucas had set several all-time Ohio records for scoring and shooting accuracy. Lucas entered his senior year as the top-rated high school player in the country. When Middletown lost to an undefeated Columbus North team, 63-62, in the 1958 state playoffs, his high school career ended with a 76-1 record. Lucas went on to a standout career, playing 14 NBA seasons before being selected for the Hall of Fame.
The most notable family of Middleton was the Carters, the eldest brother Butch stared for Middleton High School from 1973-1976. As a senior Butch was Mr. Basketball of Ohio. He went on to play for Indiana University and was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers. He played in the NBA for 6 seasons before going on to coach professionally.
The youngest of the Carter brothers, was Chris. The two-sport star attended Middleton high from 1980-83. Many thought of him as a superb basketball talent that was destined to follow his brother’s path to the NBA. The little brother was heavily recruited in both football and basketball. He chose to attended Ohio St, where he planned to play both sports. After his freshman season he decided to focus entirely on football. As a junior he was an All-American before declaring for the draft. He played 15 seasons in the NFL and left as one of the greatest wide receivers of all time. Carter was known for his ridiculous hands, racking up over 13,000 receiving yards and 130 touchdowns.
Todd Bell was a standout football player for Middletown, recruited by Ohio State as a defensive back. In 1981 Todd Bell was drafted by the Chicago Bears, playing for them from 1981 to 1987. He signed a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he played an additional two years before breaking his leg against the Bears in 1989.
Jalin Marshall attended Middletown high school, where he played wide receiver and quarterback. During his career, he rushed for 4,759 yards and had 54 total touchdowns. Marshall was rated by Scout.com as a five-star recruit and committed to Ohio State University to play college football.
Baseball standout Kyle Schwarber attended Middletown High School in Middletown, Ohio. During his four years, he hit .408 with 18 home runs and 103 RBIs. Gary Brewer, a professional golfer on the PGA Tour from 1961 to 1972, was the winner of the 1967 Masters Tournament. Brewer retired from the PGA Tour with 11 tournament wins. Produced a various other division 1 college basketball players like Purdue's current star Vincent Edwards. Most recently Luke Kennard came out of the city, he set the Ohio high school basketball scoring record before staring at Duke University for 2 seasons. He’s currently in his rookie season with the Detroit Pistons.
Kinston, North Carolina
Just off the coast of the Atlantic, Kinston only has 21,000 residents. At one point they were the tobacco capital of America. Another time they had a bomb threaten the entire existence of their city. Since then gangs, drugs and violence have overwhelmed the community. A town of about 20,000 people produces more high-level basketball talent than major cities. The odds of making it to the NBA are pretty minuscule, only three out of every 10,000 high school players make it to the highest level of basketball. But Kinston’s numbers resonate way differently. Since 1972, 1 out of 53 varsity players play in the NBA. Making it the top producer of talent per capita of any city in the United States.
Holloway rec. center was a proving ground for the top Kinston players. The center was opened and is still owned by Brandon Ingram’s Father. The skill level was separated by two courts. One court for the adults and one for the kids. Everyones aim was always to play on the adult court, that's how you proved you belong. As a youngster Jerry Stackhouse had intense battles with Mr. Ingram, trying to prove his rank at the center.
Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell started off the tradition for Kinston. He was only good enough to make the varsity team as a senior, before earning a division 1 scholarship. Cornbread was drafted in the first round by San Diego in the 1977 draft. He went on to play with Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics winning an NBA championship in 1981. Maxwell has served as a mentor to many in the community.
Jerry Stackhouse may have claim to the greatest athlete out of Kinston. The 18 year NBA veteran set all scoring records at Kinston before heading off to Oak Hill Academy as a senior. Heres a bonus video of Stack dominating at Kinston in the early 90's. Stackhouse scored over 24,000 points in his NBA career. He has claimed Kinston as his home throughout his career. Stackhouse has also been an adviser for several athletes from Kinston after him.
Recently Brandon Ingram has continued the tradition after scoring over 2,500 points in high school. He headed off to Duke where he was the ACC freshman of the year, before being drafted 2nd overall in the NBA draft.
Reggie Bullock also grew upon Kinston. He said there were a number of people who looked out for him as a young ball player growing up in a place he has described as “gangland.” Bullock said gang members helped dissuade him from a life of crime and went as far as to shelter him from danger.
Tony Dawson is a retired NBA small forward who attended Kinston High School. He’s played with the Sacramento Kings and the Boston Celtics before playing some basketball overseas.
While the city produces mostly basketball talent they have produced other notable athletes. NFL hall of famer, tight end Dwight Clark was born in Kinston. Kinston was home to NBA veterans Herbert Hill, Charles Shackleford, Mitchell Wiggins and NFL veteran Dwight Coples.
UNC Coach Roy Williams commented, “You know it is incredible the size of the town but yet you think about those players that have been there and what they’ve accomplished. It’s phenomenal.” Williams also added that “I’m more likely to travel to Kinston to see a player than I would be in New York City”.
Donora is a decaying town, another in a long line of once-flourishing Rust Belt boroughs along the river in West Pennsylvania. Agriculture, coal-mining, steel-making, wire-making, and other industries were conducted in Donora's early history. Home to the 1948 smog that killed 20 people and sickened another 7,000. Donora has a collection of hall-of-famer's that would even put the bigger cities to shame. Stan Musial, Ken Griffey Junior and Joe Montana. The population as of 2010 was a mere 4,781.The steel mills closed long ago. A broken-down bridge that was Donora’s last business life line was imploded last year. “It’s really depressing, and basically, everybody moves out of this town,” said Dennis Lomax, 64, who grew up in Donora.
Stan “The Man” Musial was the first superstar to hail from Donora. While growing Musial lived next to a former minor league catcher who taught Musial valuable lessons in baseball. He played one season on the Donora High School baseball team, where one of his teammates was Buddy Griffey, father of MLB player Ken Griffey Sr. and grandfather to Ken Griffey Jr.. One of the greatest hitters in the history of baseball had a lifetime average of .331 over his 22 big league seasons. Musial faced hometown tragedy when the Donora Smog attack killed a brother and a cousin. Although it was a tremendous loss for Musial he continued to support his home town. “The Man” helped put Donora on the map and has never forgotten when he came from, giving the residents of the city a great source of pride.
Both Ken Griffey Jr. and Ken Griffey Sr. hail from Donora. Senior went to high school right there in Donora before staring for the Reds and Mariners. His contemporaries in Donora did not think he would become a baseball star; they considered his best sport football, where he was a star wide receiver. At times, he would even compete in track meets during baseball games, rushing up the hill between Donora High School's baseball field and track between at-bats when it came time for his track events. Junior didn't play his high school ball in town but went to Archbishop Moeller of Cincinnati. Still Senior thought it was best if his family lived in the same town he grew up in. Both still call Donora home to this day, the town recently gave the town an official Ken Griffey day.
Joe Montana “Joe Montana was from New Eagle, but he played his high school football for Ringgold at Legion Field here in Donora,” he said. Maybe think the magic of Donora may have rubbed off on Montana.
While the city hasn't produced a great athlete in a number of years, the community is still heavily rooted in sports. Donora is a decaying town, yet another Western Pennsylvania borough hit by hard times. But it’s also the birthplace of the Griffey's and Stan Musial, and that’s something that keeps its residents going.
Located only 29 miles outside Pittsburgh, this tiny town of 10,000 was able to give starts to 4 future NFL hall-of-famers. In the early 1980's when the steel mills started moving away, people found multiple generations of their families out of work. With no other jobs, most people moved away from the area. This caused the city’s population to drop drastically. Those who stayed found themselves struggling just to feed their families. It has one of the highest violent crimes rates in the nation, regardless of city size.
The towns original sports hero might be Pete Maravich’s father, Press Maravich. From his early time as a player, Press was a basketball hero in his hometown. After his brief professional career he returned to coach the high school boys team.
Before the sweater vest and cigar, future hall-of-famer Mike Ditka was a 3 sport star at Aliquippa High School. Under head coach Press Maravich, Ditka started at forward on the basketball team. Ditka went on to be a hall of fame NFL tight end and a Superbowl winning coach with the 1986 Chicago Bears.
Eight years after Ditka departed, Press Maravich’s son was ready to star for the city. It was Aliquippa, where Pete first honed his basketball wizardry, even throwing an under the legs pass as a 12 year old on the high school’s varsity. Maravich and Press eventually formed the greatest father-son college tandem of all time. Maravich scored a record 44 points a game for his dad at LSU, before staring for 10 seasons in the NBA.
Running back Tony Dorsett attended Hopewell High School and set the school rushing record with 2,272 yards. While attending Pittsburgh University, he was the Heisman winner in the 1976 season. Dorsett was an all-world running back in the NFL where he accumulated 4 Pro Bowl selections and a first team All-Pro nod in 1981.
The early 90’s saw Ty Law emerge on the scene for Aliquippa high. Law was MVP of the school’s basketball and football teams. He was a top 50 recruit nationally and chose to attend Michigan before his hall of fame NFL career.
As a senior Sean Gilbert was a Parade Magazine All-America and the USA Today Prep Defensive Player of the Year and the Associated Press named him to its First-team All-state after leading the "Quips" to a 14–1 record and a Western Pennsylvania AAA championship.
The greatest football player to come out of Aliquippa may be Darrelle Revis. In the State Championship game, he led Aliquippa to a come-from-behind 32–27 win by scoring 5 touchdowns. In his junior and senior years of high school he led Aliquippa to WPIAL basketball championships, leading the team in scoring both years, culminating with a 25.2 PPG average his senior season. He stared at Pittsburgh before his 5x All-Pro career in the NFL.
Other NFL players that came out of the city include, Carmine DePascal, Anthony Dorsett Jr., Charles Fisher, John Tzel, Josh Lay, Curt Singer, Paul Posluszny, Richard Mann, Bob Liggett, and Willie Walker. These kids don’t have a lot, most have nothing to look forward to but football, so they put all of their pride into that game.
Depending on who you ask, Compton is both clouded in gang violence and filled with family ties. Ask those outside LA and they instantly think of gang activity. Natives tell a tale of close-knit community. Similar to other cities, Compton has seen a serious change over the last 50 years. While the namesake provides plenty of cache, the city itself has produced a countless amount of pro stars. A rich history of sport has always ran parallel with the city.
The city’s biggest stars may be sisters, Serena Williams world No. 1 ranked female tennis player with 23 Grand Slam singles titles and 14 Grand Slam doubles titles. And her sister, Venus Williams – former world No. 1 tennis player with seven Grand Slam titles and four Olympic golds. The sister honed their game in Compton learning the game at an early age from their father. Heres some footage on Venus and Serena on their upbringing in Compton.
Dennis Johnson was one of the first truly dominant basketball players from Compton. The glamour of NBA stardom was a long way from Johnson's childhood in Compton, Calif. He was the eighth of 16 children, the son of a bricklayer and a social worker. As a 5-9 guard at Dominguez High School, Johnson played only a minute or two each game. After graduation he grew 6 inches and eventually found his way to Pepperdine University, before going on to a hall of fame career with Seattle and Boston.
In 2000 a kid named Aaron Afflao started attending Centennial High in Compton. Afflao went on to be a two time All-State selection and a top 20 player nationally. After leading UCLA to the Final 4 in his junior season, he declared for the draft. Later prompting Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar to include tails of Afflao, in his hit album Good Kid Mad City.
Demar Derozan blew up as a 13 year old playing with Master P’s All-Star team, that featured the likes of Brandon Jennings. Jennings who started his freshman year at Compton’s Dominiguez, then transferred to Oak Hill Academy his sophomore season amid cash allegations. Meanwhile Derozan stayed home attending nearby Compton High School for 4 seasons before attending USC. As teenage stars the duo knew just about everyone in Compton, including fellow basketball star James Harden. The Beard attended Artesia High School a far drive away from the inner city of Compton. Although he didn’t attend a Compton basketball factory he did lead his team to two state championships. The cities other NBA players include Cedric Ceballaos, Dwayne Polee, Tyshaun Prince, Patrick Christopher, Josh Childress, Titto Maddox and Jeff Trepagnier.
All-Pro NFL corner Richard Sherman played for Dominguez high from 2003-2006. As a senior in 2005, he accounted for 1,030 all-purpose yards, including 870 yards on 28 catches and three punt returns for touchdowns. Sherman was even named an All-American track and Field player as a high school senior. Sherman played at Stanford before being drafted in the 5th round by the Seattle Seahawks.
Compton’s only Heisman winner was USC running back Mike Garrett. Garrett was a star running back during his reign with the Trojans. He went on to star in the NFL for 10 seasons. Notable ESPN personality and NFL pro bowler Marcellus Wiley also hails from Compton. Wiley played for the Bills and Chargers for 11 NFL seasons. James Lofton was a standout linebacker with the Washington Redskins. Lofton helped them to 3 Super Bowl titles after growing up in Compton.
Eddie Murray was a big time slugger in the major leagues, tacking up over 500 home runs. Murray started his baseball career at Compton High before moving on to college. As a senior the outfielder was one of the most sought after prospects in the country. Murray is far from the only great baseball player Compton has produced.
Duke Snider Started the tradition, the MLB hall of famed had a great career with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Snider stared at Compton high in the late 1930’s. The city has also produced various other coaches and people close to sports. Ex NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle is a native of Compton.
The western most city in the Florida Panhandle has a population around 55,000. Known for their dangerous exposure to hurricanes and their title of "The Cradle of Naval Aviation”. Home to a large United States Naval Air Station, the first in the United States. The football king of talent could also be Pensacola. Home to all time greats Emmit Smith and Derrick Brooks, the city gets little credit for its football dominance. A respectable number of basketball and baseball stars also called the city home. The youth program was thought to have some of the best coaches in america.
The NFL’s all time leading rusher Emmitt Smith, attended Escambia High School where he played high school football and ran track. During Smith's career he rushed for 106 touchdowns and 8,804 yards, which was the second most yardage in the history of American high school football at the time. Emmitt rushed for over 100 yards in 45 of the 49 games he started for Escambia. In track & field, Smith competed as a sprinter and was a member of the 4 × 100 m (42.16 s) relay squad. For his efforts, Smith was the USA Today and Parade magazine high school player of the year for 1986.
Following Smiths stellar high school career, the city birthed another Football legend in Derrick Brooks. Brooks attended Washington High School in Pensacola where he was a USA Today All-American. During his senior season in 1991, Brooks carried Pensacola to the state playoff semifinals, where they lost to the eventual champion Manatee. Brooks would eventually star in the NFL where he was All-Pro 11 times, he was elected to the hall of fame in 2014.
Doug Baldwin hails from the city, where he stared at two sports in high school. The wide receiver had a big senior season with 682 yards and 6 touchdowns. Once at the pro level, Baldwin broke out racking up over 5,900 receiving yards and 80 touchdowns in just 7 seasons. Recently running back’s Trent Richardson and Alfred Morris stared for high schools in Pensacola. Both running backs made it big in the NFL, even though Richardson flamed out rather quickly. Richardson was an All-American during his high school career. While Morris was an unheralded recruited, he excelled at the pro level.
Not known for corner backs, Cortland Finegan also attend Pensacola high. An underrated recruited Finegan proved himself at the highest keel once he got the chance. Several other outstanding football players call the city home including Ladius Green, Josh Sitton, Ahtyba Rubin, Adron Chambers, Fred Robbins.
Baseball is another speciality of Pensacola, which produced the likes of Addison Russell, Josh Donaldson, Jay Bell, Travis Fryman, Buck Showwalter, Josh Sitton and Don Sutton. The town has even produced a few NBA players, Bob Williams, Tom Sweell, Rich Peek, Clifford Lett and most recently Reggie Evans.
Infamous boxer Roy Jones Jr. hails from Pensacola. Before he went on to 6 different weight titles, he trained right there in downtown Pensacola.
A fast growing city in northern Georgia, in only 5 years Norcross went from 9,000 residents to over 16,000. The recent explosion in population has helped an already robust basketball city take the next step. Norcross has recently started to produce high quality players. Before 2003, no NBA player ever came out of Norcross. Since then Jodie Meeks, Trey Thompkins, Gani Lawal, Jeremy Lamb, Al-Farouq Aminu and Malcolm Brogdon have all made it to the league via Norcross. Putting out NBA players is nearly impossible and Norcross is making it look routine. Outside of prep schools, there are not many talent-rich public high school basketball factories. Norcross High is a public school that continually produces college & NBA level basketball players. Racking up multiple state championships while sending countless players to the college and NBA level. Head Coach Jesse McMillan, has sent over 45 players to division one college since 2002.
Jodie Meeks started the recent trend of successful players when he started at Norcross High in 2002. His senior season culminated in Meeks averaging 25 points and leading Norcross to it’s first state championship. As a top 50 recruit nationally, he drew numerous college scholarships before choosing Kentucky. As a junior he earned All-American honors and was a first round draft pick in the NBA.
Al-Fariuq Aminu was a bona fide star as a high school star at Norcorss high. A top 10 recruit nationally, Aminu averaged 23.1 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game as a senior. Aminu is currently in his 8th NBA season with career averages of 9 points and 5 rebounds. Norcross went 30-3 during Aminu’s senior season where he paired with future NBA player Gani Lawal.
Lawal teamed with Aminu to make one of the best front lines in the history of Georgia high school basketball. Lawal was named a McDonalds All-American as a senior before staring at Georgia Tech.
Before he won the 2009 NCAA championship with the UCONN Huskies Jeremy Lamb was leading Norcross to a regional championship. After his two years at UCONN, Lamb was an NBA lottery pick in 2012.
Recent NBA sensation Malcolm Brogdon graduated in 2009 before staring at the University of Virginia. As a high school senior he averaged 25.7 points, 12.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.3 steals per game. Brogdon was Rookie of the Year in 2016 after being drafted in the 2nd round by Milwaukee.
Various college basketball stars also came out of the city. Trey Thompkins had a cup of tea in the NBA after staring at Georgia. Jordan DeMercy paired with Aminu and Lawal before playing at Florida State for 4 seasons. Chris Allen was a college star at Michigan State. Rayshaun Hammond's like countless other players played at Georgia. Jordan Goldwire is a sophomore at Duke University. Most recently Norcross high’s Lance Thomas committed to Louisville.
True to its state tradition, the city has produced some great football talent. Before tearing up the NFL, running back Alvin Kamara called Norcross home. The pro bowl running back and Crimson Tide alumni, attended school at Norcross high. Wide recover Brice Butler, Denver Broncos center Max Garcia and Detroit Lions Tackle Jeff Backus all stared at Norcross high in the past 20 years. Recently Georgia's Lorenzo Carter attended Norcross high.
Pine Bluff, Arkansas
With a population of about 50,000 people, Pine Bluff has been a hidden gem in the world of sports. With roots in the civil war, early industry help build the cities infrastructure. Once those industries left and jobs were gone, the community took a serious hit. Now the town has major problems with its economy and dying infrastructure. At one time, it was one of the major producers of athletic talent in the country.
Early football star Don Hutson help put Pine Bluff on the map. As a senior at Pine Bluff High School he was an All-State basketball player, he was famously quoted as saying "I'm like most, I'd rather see football, but I'd rather play basketball.” Hutson only played one year of football at Pine Bluff before he went on to play for the Alabama Crimson Tide. He then signed a contract with the Green Bay Packers where he stayed for 10 seasons. He was an 8 time first team All-Pro at the wide receiver position and won three championship. Hutson was named league MVP twice, leading the league in receiving yards 7 times.
Joe Berry Caroll was perhaps Pine Bluff’s biggest basketball star. The 7’0 Center stared at North Carolina State in college before becoming at NBA lottery pick. A naturally gifted player, Caroll struggled with substance abuse issues and was never able to fulfill his true potential.
One of the NBA’s first big point guards was Lafayette Lever, better known as “FAT”. The 6-3 Lever had a long and skinny frame that allowed him to shoot and see over the top of smaller defenders. His best year came in 1987 when he averaged 19 points to go along with 8 assist for the Denver Nuggets. The best part of Lever’s game might have been his rebounding, as he averaged 8 or more rebounds 4 different times in his career.
The cities most well-known star was Torii Hunter, the former MLB center fielder stared at Pine Bluff High school where he played baseball, football, basketball and track. During his high school career he was named to the US track team. Eventually he was selected out of high school in the 1993 MLB draft by the Minnesota Twins.
Willie Roaf was a longtime NFL lineman that also grew up in Pine Bluff. Roaf was a star tackle in high school and had numerous division 1 college choices. Roaf might even receive some consideration for the Hall of Fame.
The mid size city has also produced a countless amount of division 1 football and basketball players. Recently those in the area think that the talent pool has dropped off quite a bit. Mostly due to families moving away from the area. Locals question when that problem will be solved.
East Chicago, Indiana
Located against the south end of Lake Michigan, East Chicago is cold, tough town in the northern most part of Indiana. Home to 30,000 people, the frigid town has produced great athletes. East Chicago was once powered by a booming steel industry. Near by, Gary is another basketball hot bed that has produced numerous talents. East Chicago's has a rich high school basketball history which includes four basketball state championships, 7 NBA players and more than 100 Division I players.
Before Kenny Loften was big time in the major leagues, he called East Chicago home. Loften was a huge two sport star in baseball and basketball. The future MLB All-Star broke several school records. He started at point guard for the schools basketball team, while playing center field for the baseball team.
Greg Popovich grew up in East Chicago before playing in the NBA and coaching 5 championship teams. He spent his summer nights at Glen Park on 39th and Broadway in south Gary, going against the top players in the area. As a junior he started on the varsity team, where he improved each day. Eventually he caught a scholarship and made his way to the NBA. Recently Popovich had his No.21 jersey retired by his high school, prompting him to say, "I don't know why they want to do it now. My scoring average hasn't changed in 40 years." Here is some bonus footage of Popovich talking about growing up in East Chicago.
NBA player Junior Bridgeman was the 7th overall pick in the 1982 draft. Bridgeman was a star recruit for East Chicago high. NBA journeyman Etwann Moore continued the basketball tradition in East Chicago. The 6-3 scoring guard was a top 50 recruit nationally before attending Purdue University.
Recently Carolina Panthers Star Kawann Short attended East Chicago high from 2004 to 2007. Short was under recruited but was a two time all Big-Ten selection at Purdue. Besides Short, the town has produced long time NFL veterans Jim Bradley and Ron Smith. They even produced MLB players Larry Fritz and Bob Anderson.
Lamar, South Carolina
Lamar with a tiny population of 989, has produced four NFL football players in the past 25 year. All of them attended the one and only high school in town. Linebacker Levon Kirkland (Class of 1986), defensive end John Abraham (1996), safety Mike Hamlin (2004), linebacker Marshall McFadden (2005) and B.J. Goodson (2011) all came up in Lamar. Known as a town where two school busses were toppled over in a desegregation protest in 1970, Lamar remade its image with football.
The odds of a town that size producing 5 NFL players in 25 years is off the charts. Jeffrey Forrester, an associated professor of math at Dickenson College in Pennsylvania put the chances at 0.000000000797. Being dealt a royal flush is 20,000 times more likely to happen. Dominic Yeo, an Oxford math student, set the probability at “1 in ten million billion.”
John Abraham was a star in the NFL, making 5 pro bowl teams as a defensive end. The future first team All-Pro selection played only one season of high school football where he was good enough to earn a scholarship to the University of South Carolina.
Most recently Lamar native B.J. Goodson made his way to the NFL. The Clemson linebacker was drafted in the 4th round by the New York Giants in 2016. In his 2 seasons with the Giants, he has recorded 62 tackles.
Levon Kirkland, a former Pittsburgh Steeler and second-round draft pick, is now an assistant coach with the Arizona Cardinals. Before his coaching days he was a 2x All-Pro selection at linebacker. He believes the no-frills life in Lamar has a real effect on the success of the players in the city “there were no movie theaters or fast food restaurants and that led to a blue-collar work ethic. The guys from Lamar are workers.”
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