Was Lamar Jackson’s Heisman Trophy-winning moment Saturday night the greatest achievement by a former Palm Beach County high school football player — the crowning moment in the area’s illustrious high school football history?
The fact that the question can be asked shows the amount of big-time players who have worn the colors of county high schools through the decades and the monumental achievements some of them have accomplished.
When a statewide panel in 2007 picked the greatest 100 players in the first 100 years of Florida high school football, county high schools were represented by Ottis Anderson (Forest Hill, 1974), Anquan Boldin (Pahokee, 1998), Bobby Butler (Atlantic, 1976), John Carney (Cardinal Newman, 1982), Anthony Carter (Suncoast, 1978), Devin Hester (Suncoast, 2001), Jessie Hester (Glades Central, 1980), Barry Hill (Carver High, 1969), Rickey Jackson (Pahokee, 1977), Antone Smith (Pahokee, 2004), Fred Taylor (Glades Central, 1993) and Vince Wilfork (Santaluces, 1999).
That’s 12 out of 100 in a state that produces more Division I football players than any other in the country year after year. And many of them went on to achieve things that even Jackson can still only dream of.
Pahokee’s Jackson is the Godfather of Palm Beach County football. He was so good in high school – and knew it – that he changed his name from Ricky to the more distinctive Rickey. He rose from Muck-covered youth fields to NFL stardom with the New Orleans Saints, won a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers and, ultimately, reached the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I knew I was going to be a great football player,” Jackson said during his 2010 induction speech. “What enticed me to really try to play football was you come to Pahokee, they have on the sign, “Welcome to the home of Mel Tillis.” He was a country singer. … I wanted my name on that sign.”
Jackson’s Canton bust would be the unquestioned centerpiece on many area’s football mantel. But three years later Super Bowl XLVII served as nothing less than a celebration of Palm Beach County football as seven players from local high schools were on the rosters of the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. And the game was played in the same New Orleans Superdome where Jackson starred.
The Ravens had receiver Boldin and defensive tackle Pernell McPhee of Pahokee, plus receiver Deonte Thompson and running back Damien Berry of Glades Central and safety Emmanuel Cook of Palm Beach Gardens. The 49ers had defensive tackle Ray McDonald of Glades Central and Joe Looney of Lake Worth High. Only two states – Texas and California — had more ex-players in the game than Palm Beach County.
Speaking of Super Bowls, Palm Beach County has produced two MVPs of the big game. Forest Hill’s Anderson, at age 34 and having relinquished his role as the featured back for the New York Giants, stepped in for an injured Rodney Hampton and rushed for 102 yards on 21 carries as the Giants’ ball-controlled the high-scoring Buffalo Bills into submission in Super Bowl XXV.
“I knew I had plenty in the tank,” Anderson told The Post. “On that Saturday the night before we played the game, we had a meeting and I mentioned to (fellow Giants running back) Lewis Tillman that I would win the Super Bowl MVP.
“Lewis felt I was being braggadocious about it. He thought it was kind of selfish of me to say I was going to win. I wasn’t being selfish. I just felt that if anybody had a chance to win it, it would be me. It could have been anybody on offense, why not think about yourself?”
Anderson received a Buick convertible for backing up his bold words.
“I must be the eighth wonder of the world,” Anderson said the day after the game. “If King Kong is No. 1, I’m the eighth.”
Nine is the number associated with Santonio Holmes’ MVP performance in Super Bowl XLIII for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who rallied to beat the Arizona Cardinals. The receiver from Glades Central caught nine passes 131 yards, and his last grab is one of the most memorable in football history as he extended his full 5-foot-11 frame on the tips of his toes like a ballerina and snagged the winning catch in the back-right corner of the end zone with 35 seconds to play.
“I knew from the instant I caught that ball that I was not out of bounds,” Holmes, who caught four passes from Ben Roethlisberger on the Steelers’ winning drive, told The Post. “Guys around me were telling me, ‘It’s a catch. Iit’s a catch.’ I said, ‘You guys have seen me make this catch in practice every day.’ I did it in the Baltimore game at the end of the season. Those plays are imminent.”
It seems a player from a Palm Beach County high school winning the Heisman was imminent. A few have come close before Jackson’s breakthrough. Six times former county high school stars have finished in the top 10 of the final Heisman voting, including Suncoast’s Carter doing it an amazing three times (10th, 7th and 4th between 1980-82) while rewriting the University of Michigan and Big Ten receiving record books.
Craig Erickson (Cardinal Newman) finished eighth in the voting in 1990, the year after he quarterbacked the University of Miami to a national championship. Tre Mason (Park Vista) finished sixth in 2013, the year Florida State’s Jameis Winston easily won the award.
Brad Banks, a quarterback from Glades Central who led Iowa to an Orange Bowl appearance, finished second in Heisman voting to USC’s Carson Palmer in 2002. Banks was a co-favorite going into announcement Saturday after he bested Palmer for the Davey O’Brien Award for best quarterback in the country. Banks also was voted national player of the year by the Associated Press.
“I wasn’t upset at all for not winning the Heisman,” Banks told The (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Gazette in 2014. “We as a team just accomplished one of the greatest years in Hawkeye history, and there were a lot of other good things that went on that year. I won’t allow not winning the Heisman rain on all of those good things from that year. If I would have won it, it would have icing on the cake.”
In a way, Palm Beach County’s high school football history is like a cake, layered with talent that goes back decades.
On Saturday night Lamar Jackson, Boynton Beach High Class of 2015, won the Heisman Trophy, putting the icing on that cake.