By Dave Krider
Terrelle Pryor can thank his football coaches at Jeannette, Pa., for his selection as MaxPreps’ 2007-08 Boys National Athlete of the Year.
The 6-foot-6, 220-pound superstar always had pictured himself as a basketball player first, with football definitely in the background. The summer before his sophomore year, in fact, he was oh-so-close to leaving home to specialize in basketball at Jacksonville, Fla., powerhouse Arlington Country Day.
“I was probably a couple days from flying down,” Pryor told MaxPreps.
That’s when Jeannette head football coach Ray Reitz and quarterback coach Roy Hall came up with their best sales pitch. There was no pressure, but Reitz said simply, “We don’t care if you play basketball, but give yourself a chance in football.”
Pryor admits, “If they wouldn’t have said (talked to him), I probably wouldn’t be here now.”
Even though Pryor was convinced to stay and play both sports, he made a basketball commitment to the University of Pittsburgh midway through his sophomore year.
The rest is history as Reitz noted happily, “His junior year he exploded and his senior year was incredible.”
Last fall the brilliant quarterback was named the nation’s No. 1 offensive player by every major publication, including MaxPreps. His statistics were mind boggling. He ran 143 times for 1,899 yards (13.3 average) and 33 touchdowns. He completed 87-of-130 passes for 1,889 yards and 23 touchdowns. He also scored on one pass reception and one interception return of 100 yards. Roughly, he accounted for a touchdown once every four times he ran or completed a pass.
The bottom line is that the 2007 Jayhawks won Pennsylvania’s Class AA state championship with a perfect 16-0 record and set an all-time state record with 860 points for a staggering 55.0 average. His very presence drew fans from far away and enabled Jeannette to sell out every home game at 8,000 capacity.
Pryor joined – and perhaps passed – such Western Pennsylvania legends as Tony Dorsett, Joe Namath, Dan Marino, Joe Montana and Tom Clements. He stands alone today as the only player in state history to run and pass for over 4,000 yards in a career – even though he sat out large chunks of many runaway games. He finished with 4,340 passing and 4,238 rushing. He accounted for 125 touchdowns as the Jayhawks went 38-4 during his final three campaigns.
Asked where Pryor ranks in state history, Reitz replied quickly, “Remember Frank Merriwell (legendary fictional hero)? He (Pryor) had a story-book career. The way he matured and became a leader was so special. Not only does he have the ability, but he puts the time in, too. The greatest thing is that he’s very unselfish and for the total team. He’s one of the best athletes ever to come out of Western Pennsylvania. I’m 52 and he’s the best I’ve seen.”
Reitz stresses that Pryor is a true quarterback – not just a great athlete playing quarterback. But he also used him at times at linebacker, defensive end, safety and receiver. He also could see him starring in track as a sprinter (he has run 40 yards in a blazing 4.35 seconds and ran 200 meters in 22.4 seconds as a freshman), high jumper, long jumper or triple jumper. Reitz added, “He could be a great volleyball player. I don’t think there’s any sport he couldn’t be great at.”
You can add baseball (where he used to hit long home runs in Little League) and golf (where he can drive the ball 280 yards with little practice).
Coach Reitz then paused and acted as if he had found a single flaw: “He might have trouble with bocce.” Asked what that is, he answered, “Italian bowling.”
Despite his huge success in football, Pryor continued to star in basketball. During his senior year, he averaged 21.9 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists as the Jayhawks posted a 25-4 record and won the Class AA state title. He finished his career with 2,285 points – No. 8 in Western Pennsylvania history – and helped Jeannette post a 98-18 record.
Basketball coach Jim Nesser told MaxPreps, “I call him a point forward. He handles the ball and passes like a guard, but rebounds like a forward. As a senior he really matured and did whatever it took to be successful. He became very well rounded. He never worried about his stats – only about winning. He is one of the most competitive people I ever have been around. He’s really smart and mentally sharp about athletics. He is one of the athletes who lived up to the hype and really surpassed it.
“He’s a legend performance-wise. He was like a rock star, man. The media. Fans. Autographs before games. We sold out most of our home games (capacity 1,500). One playoff game they turned away 1,000 people at Sharon. Some of them had pre-sold tickets.”
Asked if playing dual sports helped or hurt Pryor. Nesser replied, “I think it helped him. The weight room really helped him (he can bench press 320 pounds). It was a good 1-2 punch for him. Could he have been better (in basketball) if he had been in the gym 12 months a year? Sure.”
When he was asked the same question, Pryor said, “Of course, it can make you better if you play only one. But basketball helped my legs (for football) and football (competitiveness) helped me in basketball when we were down 10 points in the fourth quarter.”
Pryor’s amazing career has been chronicled closely by veteran Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports writer Mike White, who started covering prep sports in 1979. He believes that Pryor’s all-around ability can best be compared to Tom Clements, who graduated from Pittsburgh Canevin in 1971. He chose Notre Dame football (quarterback) over University of North Carolina basketball (point guard). He also was a superb baseball shortstop.
There were other great multi-sport athletes, such as Dan Marino (Pittsburgh Central Catholic) and Lavar Arrington (Pittsburgh North Hills), but White is convinced that “From a high school standpoint, I’d put him (Pryor) No. 1. I talked to a Division I college coach and he said if he wanted to, he could play in the NBA. He has enough size, athletic ability and talent.
“He’s one of those guys who, when you go see them play, there are moments that you just go, “What?” And your jaw drops, both in football and basketball.”
White still is amazed by Pryor’s performance in the district championship against Beaver Falls when he exploded for 39 points, 24 rebounds and 10 blocks. He apparently plays his best on the big stage because he had over 400 yards in a wild 73-49 district semifinal football victory against Aliquippa.
Because White wrote so much about the Jeannette superstar, he became closely linked to him from a public perception. “It became a zoo at the end of this year,” he described. “I never saw a recruiting saga quite like his. It got so ridiculous that everywhere I went, people would come up and ask, ‘Where’s Pryor going?’ My own personal opinion: it was Ohio State for a long time. I think his dad just wanted him to look at some things.”
Pryor’s maturity is quite evident. He admitted, “I didn’t really work hard except last year and this year. I just woke up, went out and played (on pure athletic ability).”
So, Terrelle Pryor – who will play no more basketball – studies the Ohio State playbook and views film of future Buckeye opponents every week. “The plays aren’t really hard,” he feels. “There are 13 offensive concepts in passing. I’ve got that down pretty well. But I look at the defenses a lot more. I’m watching a lot of film.”
Asked if he’ll ever see another Terrelle Pryor, coach Reitz quipped, “Maybe if I live to be 150. I hope I don’t have to coach against someone like him.”
Coach Nesser, who is going to miss those electric dunks the most, predicted, “I don’t think in my lifetime there will be an all-around athlete like him. I’ll be honest – he hasn’t reached his full potential yet. It’s going to be scary.”