Editor's note: MaxPreps asked its most experienced writers and freelancers to name the best high school football player they ever saw. Requirements were at least 20 years on the job and that they had to see the athlete play in person. Here's the first installment:
The first time I witnessed Maurice Drew
on the football field I nearly flipped.
That's because the then 5-foot-6, 160-pound junior running back for De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
literally somersaulted into the end zone.
First of all, De La Salle kids just don't celebrate in such a hot-doggish manner (he was flagged for a 15-yard penalty and later in film session, legendary coach Bob Ladouceur told him: "Maurice, if you do that again, you're never playing at De La Salle again.").
Second, I thought the celebration was cool, authentic and just flat out athletic.
Third, it was the first of four touchdowns for Drew in the most important high school football game I had ever covered – a 29-15 De La Salle win over Long Beach Poly in a 2001 game that pitted the top two ranked teams in the country.
On a Long Beach City College field that featured more than 20 future Division I players – and eight NFL stars – Drew, who later changed his names to Jones-Drew, was the best player on the field.
And after covering high school sports for 27 years, he's the best prep football player I ever saw in person.
It's splitting hairs between him and another De La Salle stalwart, D.J. Williams, who was more dominating and massive on both sides of the ball. Both have had highly successful college careers and are now Pro Bowl players in the NFL, Williams with the Broncos and Jones-Drew in Jacksonville.
But from a sheer big-game, big-moment, jaw-dropping kind of player that took my breath away, Jones-Drew was second to none. Besides spectacular moves on punt returns, football's most exciting play, the power Jones-Drew displayed was awesome.
His senior season, also against Long Beach Poly, I recall literally groaning on the sideline watching him carry two 200-pound-plus defenders from the 10-yard line into the end zone.
De La Salle defensive coordinator Terry Eidson gasped internally in a summer-league 7-on-7 game before Jones-Drew's sophomore year.
"He was making moves in the open field that were hard to describe," Eidson said. "It was a one-hand touch league and no one could even touch him."
Certainly others I've seen have made lasting impressions, especially the last four years while covering on a national front. St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
defensive back-receiver-returner Lamarcus Joyner was a baller and a blur. Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.)
running back Marcus Lattimore was just flat out impressive in every facet – runner, blocker, receiver and leader. Centennial (Corona, Calif.)
linebacker Vontaze Burfict was the closest thing to Williams from the defensive side of the ball. Simply dominating. Crenshaw (Los Angeles)
tailback DeAnthony Thomas was so fast and strong it was truly like he was shot from a cannon.
There's nothing on a football field that Trinity (Euless, Texas)
receiver Brandon Carter couldn't do. Perhaps the most versatile player I've ever seen. National senior writer and columnist Mitch Stephens has covered San Francisco Bay Area sports since 1984 and joined MaxPreps in 2007.