Jeff George played for seven NFL squads over 14 seasons: Indianapolis, Atlanta, Oakland, Minnesota, Washington, Seattle and Chicago.
The strong-armed quarterback played at two universities, Purdue and Illinois.
He was the No. 1 pick in the 1990 NFL draft, threw for 27,602 career yards and 154 touchdowns.
Football took him places that he only hoped and dreamed.
The one destination he cherishes and now rekindles most is the east side of Indianapolis where he played high school ball at Warren Central, leading the Warriors to their first two state titles in 1984 and 1985.
Though the state titles were memorable and being named the first national Gatorade Player of the Year in 1985 was fantastic, George said what tugs at his heart most were moments of little fanfare.
They pull more frequent now while raising his three children Jeff (13), Jordan (11) and Jayden (8) with wife Teresa, his high school sweetheart at Warren Central. Or when hearing from his high school chums and top receivers from the state championship teams, Lance Scheib and Kip Koonce.
“It may sound funny, but when it starts to get cold now and we’re doing the hay rides with the kids or Halloween bonfires, it just takes me back to that time,” he said. “It makes me think about all those friendships I developed and precious times we had.
“It might seem sort of silly, but really that’s what high school was all about. Growing up and experiencing life really for the first time. Football back then wasn’t a job. We all played for the right reasons.”
George is rekindling his roots because Gatorade is celebrating its 25th anniversary of honoring high school athletes.
He was on the sidelines of Thursday’s nationally-televised showdown in Miami between Northwestern and Central, interviewed by television folks like MaxPreps’ Nike 5 Day 2 Friday reporter Adam Spencer.
“You hear so much about Florida football being here watching this rivalry is pretty cool,” he told Spencer. “Indiana is getting there, but I’d like to see an Indiana team and Florida team hook up.”
He didn’t think about that during his playing days and with his son now approaching high school age – Jeff Jr. is also a quarterback – he’s a little concerned all the national exposure is too much.
“I worry about all the pressure on the kids to perform,” he said. “I’d just want kids to enjoy all high school sports and all the extra activities that are part of them. You don’t want these kids growing up too fast. All the pressure that the media attention creates should wait until at least college.”
George remembers plenty of it himself as a high-profile athlete.
He remembers a four-month span that he and his parents would study and respond to all the colleges that had offered him scholarships. He was thankful for his parents being there and wonders how it is for student-athletes now who don’t have that kind of support.
“Looking back that was a lot for a 16- or 17-year-old to take on. It was hard enough to do it while you’re playing sports, but also keeping up your academics.”
George never took a season off either. He was a three-sport standout, playing also basketball and baseball.
He sees too many young athletes specializing and the one piece of sure-fire advice he gives them is to spread the proverbial wings.
“Each sport helped me with the other,” George said. “Baseball helped with my hand-eye coordination. Basketball helped with quickness. My advice to kids is to enjoy every moment of your high school days, play all the sports your can and most important, drink your Gatorade.”
He laughed at his obvious pandering of product during this interview junket.
Though he supports and believes in the world-known sports drink, he was quite sincere in being honored by the company a quarter-century ago.
“Really, that was a fantastic honor – the Heisman for high school sports,” he said. “To be awarded that – that was real special not only because it singled out my athletic achievement but academic and community work. That’s award no one can ever take away.”
For all his recollection, George, 41, isn’t quite ready to give up completely on his athletic dreams.
He’s campaigned pretty hard the last couple of years of getting back into the NFL as a backup, to be a mentor to younger quarterbacks and being a valuable insurance policy when quarterbacks eventually go down.
“I watch the games on Sunday and definitely see that teams need someone like myself,” he said. “I still stay in shape and remain hopeful someone will call. I know I can help.”
The fact Brett Favre, who just turned 40, is still getting the job done helps.
He was particularly moved by Favre’s performance Monday against the Packers when he and teammates were clad in pink to help with Breast Cancer Awareness month.
George’s mother Judy was diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2002 and shortly after he started The Jeff George Foundation, a partnership in breast cancer diagnostics. His mother is living a strong, healthy life, he said, which gives Jeff more inspiration to play the game he loves and to cherish all things that are dear to him.
Like his high school playing days.
“Truly, they are some of the best and fondest memories in my life,” he said. “I want my kids and their kids get to experience them too.”
Know someone from your high school who is playing professional sports or had a distinguished career in athletics? Tell us about their starting point. E-mail Mitch Stephens at email@example.com.
Go to Gatorade's facebook page to rekindle past Player of the Year award-winners.