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2004 High School Football: Best Players ('94-'03)


Charles Woodson, Fremont Ross (1991-94).

The Blade/Chris Walker
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1. No. 2 was No. 1: In the fall of 1992, Fremont Ross coach Rex Radeloff was asked by a reporter, "How good is this Woodson guy and, if he s scoring so much [on runs, receptions and returns], why don t you give him ball more often?"

"Well, we ve got a pretty good senior carrying the ball, and [Toddie Price] has earned that spot," Radeloff replied, adding, "but in a few years you re going to see Charles Woodson playing on Sundays."

Radeloff was likely not only correct in his handling of his personnel, he was dead on the money about the guy wearing jersey No. 2, Woodson. Beyond that, he is arguably the best player Northwest Ohio has ever produced.

These assessments were backed by the fact that Woodson, equally adept as an unstoppable running back and sure-tackling defender, was voted as Ohio s Mr. Football in 1994, and were confirmed three years later when he became the first-ever predominantly defensive player to win college football s Heisman Trophy while with the national-champion University of Michigan Wolverines.

Woodson, also an effective receiver and return man at Michigan, has since become a regular all-pro cornerback with the NFL s Oakland Raiders.

As a 6-1, 195-pound senior, Woodson rewrote the Fremont Ross record books. He rushed 218 times for 2,028 yards (9.3 average), caught 10 passes for 160 yards, returned 15 punts for 300 yards, and scored 38 touchdowns plus a two-point run for 230 total points. His career 3,861 rushing yards broke the Ross career mark of Jim Tiller (3,755). His Little Giants teams were 23-8.

2. Big Ben: Speaking of Fremont Ross, it was a Fremont News Messenger reporter who was chastized by Findlay High coach Cliff Hite following the Trojans 45-8 GLL pounding of Ross at Findlay s Donnell Stadium on Oct. 30, 1998.

The reporter had the audacity, in Hite s opinion, to suggest in an article earlier that week that a junior receiver named Ben Roethlisberger should rightfully be the Trojans starting QB, ahead of Hite s son Ryan, an All-GLL selection that year.

Whether or not the reporter or Cliff Hite were correct that year will never be known. But one thing is certain: As a senior, few quarterbacks in Ohio high school history were better than Ben Roethlisberger. Certainly no quarterback ever played so well with so little experience at that position.

All the 6-5, 186-pound Roethlisberger did in 12 games in 1999 as QB in coach Hite s spread offense was complete 309 of 467 passes (66.2 percent) for 4,041 yards and 54 touchdowns, including tying a state record with eight TD strikes in a 59-26 road rout of Fremont Ross on Sept. 17 that year.

Roethlisberger went on to star for three seasons at Miami (Ohio) University, earning third-team All-American honors. He was the No. 1 draft pick (11th overall NFL selection) of the Pittsburgh Steelers this past spring, and is currently competing for a starting spot as a rookie.

While at Findlay, Roethlisberger was also an exceptional basketball talent who averaged over 25 points per game as a senior and earned All-Ohio honors, and was an above-average baseball player for the Trojans.

3. Money ballplayer: Keeping with the Fremont Ross theme, it was at Fremont s Harmon Stadium on Nov. 20, 1993 that Wauseon s Cory Griggs, had probably the finest game of a superb three-year career.

The 6-0, 176-pound junior quarterback/defensive back made the key plays that enabled Wauseon to overcome a 19-6 third-quarter deficit and beat Wooster Triway 31-19 in a Division III regional playoff final. Two weeks later the Tribe topped Ironton 13-10 on a last-second field goal in Massillon to finish 14-0 as state champions.

In the Triway game, Griggs, who had scored Wauseon s first TD on a second-quarter run, directed a much-needed third-quarter TD drive. Sttill down 19-12 after a punt, Griggs returned an interception 29 yards for a score. The ensuing PAT kick tied the game with eight minutes to go. A few plays later, Griggs caused a fumble that was recovered by (who else?) Griggs. Two plays later the Indians scored the winning TD.

Griggs, who passed for 28 TDs in 1993, was twice named first-team All-Ohio quarterback. He led a 7-3 team as a sophomore, the 14-0 junior season, and guided a graduation-depleted team to an 11-1 finish as a senior, when an overtime loss to eventual D-IV state runner-up Orrville at Findlay ended his football career.

4. When Rodney Gamby arrived at St. Francis as a senior in 2001, having transferred in from Bedford High School in Michigan, coach Dick Cromwell wasn t sure where to play the quick and hard-hitting 5-11, 186-pounder, who had been a receiver at Bedford.

That s where St. Francis had him early in preseason practice, before putting him in as a candidate for the tailback spot in week one against Lima Senior. Gamby, who responded with a solid game, did not win the position for good until the third week, but he never looked back.

His knack for finding a hole was uncanny, and his cuts always seemed to come at the perfect instant. Finally, when all that was left on a run was an inevitable wall of tacklers downfield, Gamby typically lowered his shoulders and made the defense pay a physical price for their stop.

Some 2,409 rushing yards, 31 touchdowns and numerous bone-jarring defensive hits later, Gamby was the key figure in the Knights D-II state-title run. He was named the D-II Ohio offensive player of the year, and landed a scholarship as a defensive recruit to the University of Toledo.

5. As an All-Ohio linebacker who would later star at the University of Toledo, Tom Ward was the clearcut leader of an agile, athletic and physically powerful Defiance defense which typically mauled enemy offenses en route to 14 straight wins and a D-II state championship in 1997. Ward set the tone, and the other Bulldogs followed. Defiance registered five shutouts in 97, and only once in 14 games did the Bulldogs surrender more than two TDs in a game.

6. Pound-for-pound, Chad Long of Clyde may have been the absolute toughest player among this elite group from the past 10 years. At 6-0 and 180 as a senior, he would later star at Bowling Green. Also a state-champion wrestler for the Fliers, Long had 20 interceptions and over 2,400 rushing yards in his three years at Clyde. Long helped the Fliers to a D-III state runner-up finish as a sophomore in 1994, when he snared most of his 20 career picks, then was the premier two-way player on Clyde s 13-1 D-III state-championship team in 95. As a senior in 1996, after graduation had taken its toll on coach Bob Bishop s team, Long basically had a target on his back for opposing teams. Injured through much of that season, he still managed 101 tackles and five interceptions while leading the Fliers in rushing.

7. The versatile Newsome, a two-way star at Fostoria, led the Redmen to a D-II state championship as a senior in 1996, playing defensive back and quarterback. He was a key figure in a defense that held opponents to 9.4 points per game in 96, when the Redmen beat Akron Buchtel 14-6 in the finals. Named the Blade s player of the year in 96 for his all-around football skill, Newsome went on to start on defense at Michigan State.

8. Robinson, a terrific three-year, two-way player at Central, led the Irish to back-to-back playoff appearances and earned first-team All-Ohio honors at receiver. He was one of the leading freshman players in the country as a punt retunr specialist and spot receiver last year for the 10th-ranked, 13-1 Miami (Ohio) University RedHawks.

9. Earl somehow flew under the radar in not being recruited by the University of Toledo, but the skills of the 5-11, 228-pound linebacker did not go unnoticed in the City league or around the state. Averaging about 15 tackles per game for two straight seasons, the result of an uncanny ability to wade through blockers and find the ball carrier, Earl received first-team D-II All-Ohio honors as both a junior and senior. The latter year produced Rogers first-ever CL football championship and playoff appearance, and Earl was named Blade player of the year. He earned a starting spot as a freshman at Akron before a broken ankle ended his season, and is still a key member of the Zips defense.

10. In honor of the Big Ten Conference, which actually has 11 teams, the 10th spot goes to two two-way linemen who went on to excellent careers in the Big Ten. Iorio starred for St. Francis before becoming a starting center as a walk-on freshman for Joe Paterno at Penn State. Anderson, also a two-time Division-II state heavyweight wrestling champion while at Clyde, was the product of good genes and large older brothers who kept him in line and showed him the way. Those lessons led Anderson into playing a pivotal role on a defense that led Ohio State to a 14-0 season and the 2002 national championship. Anybody want to break this tie? Take it up with Iorio and Anderson.

The best of the rest: Drushawn Humphrey (Rogers) 1999-2000; Kelley Rowe (Southview) 2001-03; Edwin Hood (Whitmer) 2001-03; Fred Davis (Rogers) 2001-03; Blake Lingruen (Liberty Center) 1997-99; Darren Paige (Rossford) 1999-2002; Bryan Hieber (Patrick Henry) 1995-97; Dave Mason (Gibsonburg) 1997-2000; John Lonchyna (St. Francis) 2000-2002.

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