They might not love you for this but chances are the fifteen athletes we’re talking about today have never been forgotten by the fans. Not because they were once giants of their sport- All-Stars, icons and HOFers at the professional or major college level. In fact, as you’ll see, the chances are pretty good that these athletes had relatively abysmal careers after their high school glory days were over.
Yep, that even includes the ones who hung around the professional ranks for more than a cup of coffee. In fact, this list particularly includes those ones. As Neil Young once sang, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” In some ways that lyric was tailor-made for the humbled heroes of high school whose glory shone all too briefly before crashing and burning in the wreckage of a failed college or pro career. But at least those brave few did fail spectacularly. Some of the names on this list managed to hold onto their slice of notoriety for far too long and all it brought them was grief and the ever-lasting condolences of fans who just won’t let them be forgotten.
Both you and they know why you still remember them now when you would be stumped to name last year’s NBA All-Star squads or the Conn Smythe and Lady Bing award winners from two seasons ago. You remember them because they failed. You remember them because the hype and expectation with which they entered the sports world beyond their high school gym or hockey rink outweighed, overwhelmed and sometimes strangled their talent. You remember them because they were once the best and the brightest and now they’re forever the worst. Whoever said sports weren’t brutal
15 Stefan Moore - Soccer
You would think a guy who captained the Aston Villa youth squad would do pretty well in the EPL. Especially the guy who helped said youth squad beat Wayne Rooney’s Everton eleven in the 2003 youth FA Cup. You would think you would see Stefan battling it out at Old Trafford of a Saturday with Rooney nowadays. And you would be wrong. Moore never broke onto the first team. He recently played for something called, get ready… St. Neots Town, which sounds like a Hogwarts squad or worse. Now that’s bad.
14 Felipe Lopez - Basketball
You have to be pretty darn good to be named New York’s Mr. Basketball. The high school game is taken very seriously in the Big Apple and there’s a lot of competition, both from your peers and the legends of the past who swirl around the New York game. So when you earn that accolade, play at hometown Big East power St. John’s and enter the NBA, your career is set, right? Not if you were Felipe Lopez. The former Mr. Basketball never could hack the NBA and only lasted four quietly unspectacular seasons in the league.
13 Tim Couch - Football
Everyone knows this guy’s name but he might not appreciate that so much. Once a hot-shot high schooler- Kentucky’s Mr. Football in ’95 and ranked the 6th best HS athlete ever (yeah, ever) by ESPN- Couch was also the NFL’s number one overall draft pick in 1999. He played for the expansion Browns (that does sound weird, we know) for four years and was sacked a million times (well, only 155). You know your career did not turn out as intended when the best thing you can say about it is that at least you’re not Akili Smith or Cade McNown, two guys also drafted in your class.
12 Tom McMillen - Basketball
Good old Tom was an original HS basketball phenom way back before Kevin Garnett and Lebron were even blips on the basketball ultrasound. He was on the cover of SI as “The best high school player in America” way back in 1970. He played on the disastrous 1972 Olympic team and in the NBA for 11 mediocre seasons (they called him “The man with a thousand elbows!”). But he’s best remembered these days as a three-term US Congressman. He may have peaked early as the best baller on the court but that’s still a pretty cool second career.
11 Alexandre Daigle - Hockey
He had the French Canadian hockey name. He had the looks, something you can’t always say about Canuck Junior’s hockey sensations. He even had the monster contract straight out of the box. What he didn’t have was success. After being drafted number one overall by the Senators Daigle just sort of quietly sucked. He never exceed 51 points in a campaign, played for just about everybody everywhere (including on a Hollywood team with Cuba Gooding Jr.), and claimed he never really liked hockey anyway. At least he never said “I am glad I was drafted first because no one remembers number two.” Oh wait. He did? Our bad.
10 Rick Mount - Basketball
Another high school basketball guy who was supposed to be the next great thing. Actually, he almost was. This is a guy who averaged 35.4 ppg at Purdue (without the three-pointer). This is a guy considered by some to be the best shooter in Indiana basketball history. If you look at the SI cover photo of him from 1966 he even basically looks like Larry Bird before there was a Larry. But injuries destroyed his pro career before it ever got started. The guy scored almost 2,600 points in high school, though, and is still remembered with the same reverence as the fictional Jimmy Chitwood inspired in Hoosiers.
9 Jeff George - Football
Admittedly, George did play in the NFL for 13 seasons so it’s hard to say he peaked in high school. Then again, maybe it’s not. You see, George won the Dial Award for the national scholar-athlete of the year in 1985. That same year he was the inaugural winner of the Gatorade High school Player of the Year and a USA Today All-American. After somehow parlaying a middling college career (you go, Capitol Bowl MVP!) into becoming the NFL’s number one overall pick in 1990, George went on to a stunning career as… a journeyman with a bad attitude who was released over and over.
8 Jon Peters - Baseball
The Sports Illustrated “cover jinx” reaches further, wider and deeper than we ever thought possible. At least that’s one explanation for the abject failure of John Peters’ post-high school career. Or you can believe Peters himself who says “I just had bad mechanics.” After becoming the first high school ball player to appear on the cover, a feat he accomplished by going 54-1 with 53 straight wins and three state titles, the pitcher blew out his arm and was done with baseball by age 21. Talk about peaking early.
7 Lloyd Daniels - Basketball
He was one of the original playground legends of the hoops world. Jerry Tarkanian loved him so much that he grabbed him to play on the San Antonio spurs during “Tark the Shark’s” reign there. And this was after all of the drug and alcohol problems (not to mention being shot three times during a coke deal gone bad) had stripped Daniels of most of his talent. He played in the NBA for five years and there were nights nobody could guard him. And this was with those same bullet fragments still lodged in his chest. He was Lebron before there was Lebron and he was still awesome when he was just a shell of himself. Wow. And damn.
6 Kristie Phillips - Gymnastics
Sure, Women’s Gymnastics is a sport where the competitors peak early. You don’t see many 30-year old gymnasts hanging around for that “one last shot at a title.” But peaking at 14? Ugh. That’s exactly what happened to Kristie Phillips, though, who was on the cover of SI (“The Next Mary Lou!”) in 1986, won the national championships in ’86 and ’87 and then, at the ancient age of 16, placed 8th in an Olympic year, a victim of weight-problems, coaching changes and undue pressure. We’re pretty sure 2nd alternate to the Olympic team was not where she saw herself only two short years before.
5 Marcus Dupree - Football
There are some who still say he was the best high school running back in the country - Ever. This for a guy who graduated in 1982. He broke Herschel Walker’s national touchdown record. He was 3rd in the Big Ten (1982) in rushing as a freshman. The sky was the limit. But injury and controversy kept him grounded. So grounded, in fact, that he is better known for ESPN’s 30 For 30 documentary “The Best That Never Was” than his actual career. Rushing for a miniscule career total 251 yards in the NFL wasn’t ever gonna change that cold, hard, fact.
4 Todd Van Poppel - Baseball
You’re from Texas. You’re a high school pitcher. You’re freakin’ awesome. Is it any wonder that Sports Illustrated announces you’re “The next Nolan Ryan?” Not if you’re Todd Van Poppel. Van Poppel was supposed to be one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. And he did make the leaderboards a few times. Unfortunately, one of those times was for leading the NL in errors for a pitcher (4 in 2001) and another was for leading the AL in bases-on-balls (first in ’94 with 89 of ‘em). Not that having an eleven-year professional career is anything to sneeze at, mind you, but “the next Nolan Ryan?” Not. Even. Close.
3 Maurice Clarett - Football
Sure, Maurice was pretty awesome as a freshman at Ohio State, winning a national championship in 2002 as the starting tailback. So what if everything after that was a total disaster; the trail of scandals at OSU which led to his dismissal from the team and university, his non-existent NFL career, the alcoholism, the prison time. But don’t you think he’d give it all back to be on the field again as the USA Today HS Offensive Player of the Year, a Parade All-American and potential recruit for Notre Dame, Miami and, of course, OSU? You bet he would.
2 Freddy Adu - Soccer
It’s not hard to see where things went wrong for Freddy. Being labeled the “Next Pele’” at the age of fourteen, when he signed his first professional contract, probably contributed just slightly to the pressures the young midfielder felt. We guess he didn’t really “peak” in high school proper as he spent most of his formative years playing for the US national team. But he didn’t become the next Pele’ either. He’s never stuck with any club anywhere longer than a year or two. Although, he did re-up in December with NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies. This, unfortunately is kind of like signing with an AA baseball team.
1 Todd Marinovich - Football
The absolute golden ‘Wonderboy” of HS football recruits, Marinovich was as his high school Sports Illustrated cover called him, “bred” to stardom. He was conditioned and trained by his crazy-intense Dad (a pro player himself) to be the greatest there ever was. And for a while it worked. Todd was an awesome high school player and almost won a Heisman at football factory USC. Then, like all machines put under too much stress, Todd’s machinery stopped working and he fell victim to drug addiction. He never even came close to making it in the NFL.