Joe Mauer may be the American League’s reigning MVP – and Major League Baseball's poster boy – but his heart throb in high school was the pigskin.
At least, nights flinging around the football at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minn. were his favorite prep memories.
“It’s hard to beat Friday night lights,” Mauer told us last month. “The band striking up a march song between the whistles. … the whole atmosphere. … The support of past players and family memories. … the whole community coming together for the once-a-week event. It was special.”
As was Mauer.
In fact, he is the only high school athlete ever to be selected USA Today’s Player of the Year in two sports, football and baseball. He was also a two-time All-State basketball player, averaging better than 20 points per game as a point guard.
He was also Gatorade’s National football player of the year in 2000 and Minnesota baseball Player of the Year in 2001.
He’s currently among the nominees for Gatorade’s 25th Anniversary All-Time Player of the Year award, which pits many of sport’s all-time greats over the last quarter-century. Mauer was actually nominated only in football because that's the sport he won the national award.
To vote in Gatorade's best over the last 25 years celebration, CLICK HERE.
“It was a great honor nine years ago to be selected and it was great to be up for this one as well,” Mauer said. "To be selected by a company like Gatorade which obviously knows sports and honors off-the-field work as well is something I'm proud of."
The most valued of his many athletic awards came in November when he won his first MVP, something; he said he dreamed of as a child. This after winning his third batting title, which matched the total of all other MLB catchers combined.
He hit an astonishing .365 with 28 home runs and 96 RBI and also earned his second Gold Glove award.
“I always wanted to play in the big leagues and win a World Series,” Mauer said. “We obviously haven’t got that accomplished yet but to be considered the best in the league is truly and honor and I was taken aback (with the award).”
He was floored too during his junior year at his junior year of high school at Cretin-Derham, leading the Raiders to their first state title — a long-awaited championship.
According to Mauer, the Raiders had been to the state-title game 14 of the previous 15 years, “something crazy like that,” he said, but this time they finally got it done.
Mauer, who threw for 5,528 yards and 73 yards in his two-year run as a starting quarterback, said the state title was one of the highlights of his sports career. The following season, when Mauer completed 178 of 288 for 3,022 yards, 41 TDs and just five interceptions, the Raiders lost in the state finals again, this time 24-14 to Eden Prairie.
“It was a very good night (in 1999) when we won it and very disappointing when we couldn’t repeat,” Mauer said. “I definitely felt both sides and it gave me a great perspective. I know both games, both sides gave it all and left everything on the field. Only two teams are left at the end of the season so either way it was really all good.”
Cretin-Derham hadn’t won another state football crown until last Nov. 27, when it avenged the loss to its arch-rival Eden Prairie 16-5. It finished off a 12-1 season for the Raiders, who were led by the nation’s No. 1 recruit Seantrel Henderson, a behemoth 6-8, 330-pound lineman who has yet to announce his college plans.
His latest top four possibilities are Florida, Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC.
Mauer has met Henderson a few times – “Man, he’s a big boy – a man among boys,” Mauer said – and tried to offer some recruiting advice.
He himself had to deal with plenty of recruiting pressures as a senior before taking the path of another Cretin-Derham quarterback Chris Weinke, who later won the Heisman at Florida State.
Mauer committed to Florida State also, but of course backed out when he signed a $5-million deal with the Twins.
“I told him that it can be a crazy time but to just enjoy his senior year,” Mauer said. “I told him to enjoy his classmates and just enjoy being a kid. Everything changes once you enter major college sports and of course professional sports. Just enjoy this time now because you can’t get it back.”
Henderson, Weinke and Mauer are just two of the highly-acclaimed athletic stars from Cretin-Derham.
Other notable athletes include Paul Molitor (MLB Hall of Fame), Steve Walsh (former NFL QB), Michael Floyd (wide receiver Notre Dame), current NFL linemen Ryan Harris (Broncos) and Corbin Lacina (Vikings), utility infielder Jack Hannahan (Mariners) and Montreal Canadians draft pick Ryan McDonagh.
The school, curiously enough, also claims three major league umpires as alumnus: Tim Tshida, Mark Wegner and George Sweeney.
Any explanation for the jock fest at Cretin-Derham?
“I don’t really have any except there has to be some great coaching staffs that have developed young talent,” Mauer said. “Plus, I think the school’s reputation has pushed players to a higher standard. They want to do well because other kids have done well.”
That’s what made the 1999 state title so great, Mauer said.
“We had so many teams and players accomplish great things,” he said. “To be the first to win that first title was a great accomplishment.”
Now, if he can just win one with the Twins.
"That's the plan," Mauer said.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.