High school football towns across the United States enjoy the weekly fall pilgrimage of going to see their town represented under the Friday night lights. Some special players have performed feats of unimaginable athletic prowess in the eyes of their peers, but ultimately fail to reach their end goal of being relevant on Sundays. Sure, those special few can move on to making highlight tapes on Saturdays with the college of their choice, but making it big in the NFL was never in the cards for these 15 high school superstars.
Whether it came down to drugs, women, or just a flat-out lack of NFL-caliber talent, these former stars failed to live up to the hype they carried with them throughout their amateur careers. Under the scrutiny of scouts, coaches, executives, and fans, players such as Todd Marinovich, Dorial Green-Beckham, Maty Mauk, and Tony Mandarich all managed to flame out before they could even begin to taste success in the League.
There will be some familiar faces among this crowd, but the majority will be a list of deeper cuts, accentuating those players’ outlandish high school careers rather than their professional short-comings.
15. Bryce Brown
Quite possibly the most successful in this bunch of underwhelming individuals, Bryce Brown was electric as a high school football player. As the star running back for Wichita East High School, Brown was the first player since Adrian Peterson to receive the Hall Trophy, high school football’s equivalent to the Heisman Trophy. At the close of his senior season, Brown verbally committed to the University of Miami to follow in the footsteps of his older brother. Despite the agreement, however, Brown refused to sign his National Letter of Intent and continued basking in the recruitment process. The U rescinded their offer, and the already controversial star ironically wound up playing for Lane Kiffin and Tennessee, a coach and program that floundered after a mountain of hype.
Brown moved on to Kansas State after Kiffin jumped ship, and was subsequently drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles late in the 7th round of the NFL Draft. As a rookie, the phenom found an opportunity to dazzle after LeSean McCoy succumbed to an injury, but it was only that brief stint in 2012 where his impact was felt. His two years in Philly were followed by a stop in Buffalo and a quick smoke break in Seattle. The greatest high school running back since Adrian Peterson lasted just four years in the NFL, a true flash in the pan. His 4.3 career yards per carry are respectable, but nowhere near what anyone expected due to the speedster’s reputation up to that point.
14. Tre Mason
While Bryce Brown has the Hall Trophy stashed away somewhere thanks to his unrivaled play during high school, Tre Mason would not have been considered a massive drop-off in talent among certain circles. During his senior year at Park Vista High School in South Florida, Mason rushed for nearly 1,700 yards and 24 touchdowns. Those absurd totals helped draw the attention of Auburn, where he went onto completely shatter Bo Jackson’s single-season rushing record.
After being drafted by the St. Louis Rams with the 75th overall pick in the 2014 draft, Mason looked like he would be capable of leading a resurgence of the franchise that desperately needed backfield help. Through 12 games in 2014, Mason carried the ball 179 times for 765 yards. However, coach Jeff Fisher inexplicably lost faith in his new-found bell-cow and often mixed in a bit too much of Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham, frustrating the South Florida prodigy. Rather than stick around and watch his job evaporate, Mason did something unexpected and simply left the organization. There was no lack of intrigue surrounding what happened to the ball-carrier, as he often found himself on the wrong side of the law in any number of automobile incidents. After just two years, Tre’s NFL dream ended unceremoniously, but on his own terms.
13. Maurice Clarett
Maurice Clarett was supposed to be a revelation to the Ohio State football program as well as the NFL when the draft rolled around for his class. The high school standout completely blew away scouts with his monstrous outings throughout Clarett’s varsity career. With the body of linebacker, the speed of a track star, and the attitude of a nose tackle, nobody could touch the Warren G. Harding product. A single-game summary of that dominance was showcased in a late December game during the 2000 season, where the stud rushed for 404 yards on 30 carries. Take that sample over the stretch of four years, and you can see why he was such a highly-coveted recruit heading into college.
After leading Ohio State to a 2003 BCS Championship, Clarett brought the fight to the professional level. As part of an anti-trust lawsuit against the Paul Tagliabue-led league, Clarett cited, to put it as simply as possible, that it was unreasonable to make a player wait until the end of their third year as a collegiate athlete to become draft-eligible. The OSU product was eventually drafted in 2005, after having to sit for a year of rebellion against the system, during the third round by the Denver Broncos. Hindsight is king, however, and this may have been the greatest reach for a player in the modern-day NFL draft. Clarett was subsequently cut and never logged a single second on a regular season roster.
12. Ben Mauk
The Mauk brothers have built themselves monumental legends as high school quarterbacks in the state of Ohio. Ben, the elder of the two, launched himself into the stratosphere of elite QBs after an impressive four-year career that led to him owning an absurd eight national high school records, with eight second-place spots as well. In the scholarship arms-race to snatch him up, Wake Forest latched onto Mauk and their program received something unexpected. Mauk struggled with the college game, and also suffered several crippling injuries during a 2006 game against the Syracuse Orange.
Mauk’s professional prospects were fading after all of that hype out of high school. During his last season, where he transferred to the Cincinnati Bearcats, everything finally clicked for the prodigy. That one season was not nearly enough to draw interest from professional scouts however, so Mauk petitioned the NCAA for another year of eligibility at Cincinnati, but to no avail. The former high school titan of quarterbacking was left without a landing spot, until the Canadian Football League came calling. Mauk’s desire to be in the top league for the sport never faded, but no real shot was available, despite the natural talent that he possesses.
11. Maty Mauk
We can’t do one Mauk brother without discussing the other. As successful as Ben was in high school, Maty lived right up to what his sibling set as the bar. While running through a slew of high school passing records, Mauk led Kenton High School to several postseason successes and was recruited to Missouri. In 2014 the hype for Mauk to finally start was palpable, as he had played in 11 and started 4 games during the previous year and threw for just over 1,000 yards, 11 touchdowns, and rushed for 230 yards.
Mauk led his 2014 squad to an 11-3 record, providing a wealth of hope for the next season and building his draft profile with a solid first year of being the full-time starter. The rails fell off, however, as Mauk ran into legal issues that led to his dismissal from the program. Videos showed him snorting a white substance. A transfer to Eastern Kentucky went through for the younger Mauk brother, but he played in just two games with the Colonels. Since departing the college ranks, Maty has attempted to break into the NFL several times, but has followed the path of big brother, Ben, by heading to the Great White North of Canada to play for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He never caught on long-term with the team, and is currently a free agent.
10. Kellen Moore
Kellen Moore is best-known as the quarterback for one of the most lovable underdogs to sling the ball on blue turf in NCAA history. Throughout high school, however, it was no question as to how his squad would perform with Moore under center. From deep in the Pacific Northwest, the Moore’s grew up a football family in Prosser, Washington. Kellen played for his father, Tom Moore, and with his brother, Kirby who was an excellent receiver in his own right. The three-star recruit multiple state and national records, and he earned himself a Gatorade Player of the Year Award to boot.
After an illustrious career at Boise State, Moore went into the NFL as an undrafted free agent, but caught onto a backup gig with the Dallas Cowboys. As a student of the game, Jerry Jones’ Cowboys love having Moore around as another guy that can both prep the defense as a scout player, as well as help Dak Prescott during gameplanning for their upcoming opponents. “Sticks” just does not have the physical measurements and abilities to be a starting QB in the NFL.
9. Lawrence Phillips
It was not a lack of talent or an injury that did Lawrence Phillips in when he became a professional, but rather a lack of judgement off the field. As a high school player, Phillips was a beast of a man, running over defenders at will. It was clear then that the exceptional talent could be exerted on the top level of the sport, but there were some speed-bumps along the way. As the unquestioned star running back at Baldwin Park High School, Phillips drew the attention of national powerhouse, Nebraska. Those years leading up to his recruitment were some of the best football Phillips had ever played, but his potential saw no end as he propelled the Cornhuskers to a national championship in 1994.
Domestic violence is the main reason for Phillips’ departure from the game. After assaulting an ex-girlfriend at the University of Nebraska, it was time for the star RB to jump ship to the NFL Draft. The Rams, just a few years before they would find their franchise running back in Marshall Faulk, thought they had the gem of the 1995 draft with Lawrence at the sixth overall pick. Phillips lasted just two uninspiring years in the league before succumbing to the mounting pressure of walking away from the sport forever. In 2006, the former Ram and Dolphin was convicted for assault with a deadly weapon. 2009 came, and so did another case of domestic violence that locked him up for a while. In 2015 Phillips was accused of murdering his cellmate, and a year later, the former standout football star was found dead in his cell. Phillips’ family has since agreed to donate his brain to CTE research.
8. Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel’s star shone brightest when the coaching staff let him do his thing at Tivy High School. By the numbers, Johnny Football threw for 76 touchdowns, ran for another 77, compiling 7626 passing yards, and 4,045 rushing yards across three seasons. Those electric seasons paid off for Manziel, as schools such as Texas A&M and Oregon came calling. The Texas native wanted to play at UT Austin, but head coach Mack Brown at the time even went so far as to deny any interest in Manziel playing corner for them, let alone quarterback. Not wanting to leave the state of Texas for Chip Kelly’s Oregon, the Sumlin-Manziel era began for the Aggies and culminated in the star QB taking home the Heisman Trophy as a freshman.
The Cleveland Browns, for all their faults, finally did not kill a quarterback’s career before it got started. Johnny Football took care of that on his own, with a consistent stream of controversies coming one after the other. If partying was not the issue, then domestic violence took the spotlight and vice versa. The only thing that could derail the A&M product, besides his borderline NFL physique, was himself. These days, Manziel is struggling to even make it in the CFL.
7. Heath Shuler
Much like a Johnny Football-lite, Shuler came with more hype than the conflicted star, but less controversy. Thought of as a legitimate NFL-caliber quarterback, Shuler threw for over 7,000 yards, ran for 2,500 more, and scored a combined 103 touchdowns, as he and his team won three straight championships in high school. The young quarterback looked like the real deal, which spurred Johnny Majors to offer a scholarship. That investment paid off, as Shuler went on to become one of the greatest signal callers in Volunteer history. It seemed nothing could stop the North Carolina native, almost like he was destined to become an outstanding NFL quarterback.
With the third pick of the 1994 draft, Washington selected the soon-to-be bust. Shuler disappointed fans in the nation’s capital for three years before heading down to New Orleans to finish his career in obscurity. With a sub-50% completion percentage and just 15 touchdowns to a mind-boggling 33 interceptions, Shuler can be labeled one of the biggest let-downs in draft history.
6. Sam McGuffie
One of the first viral videos that surfaced on the internet in the post-YouTube world was Sam McGuffie and his legendary ability to make everyone else on the field look like they were walking. Nothing was better than sitting down with a couple buddies and looking at a kid your age completely dominate the Texas high school football landscape. McGuffie’s high school highlight tape will forever be a standalone masterpiece. The 2008 high school graduate drew interest from Michigan, Florida, TAMU, Cal, and USC due to his breakaway speed, insane athleticism, and superb vision, plus he hurdled just about everyone foolish enough to try tackling him.
McGuffie initially went to Michigan to play for Rich Rodriguez, one of the most painful coaching tenures in DI history. After just one year, the human highlight reel chose to transfer to Rice. After three mediocre seasons with the Owls, the NFL seemed like it might not be completely out of reach for the burner, despite him being an undrafted free agent. The Arizona Cardinals, New England Patriots, and Oakland Raiders all spun the tires on this speedster, but nothing ever truly came of it. Once football was no longer a realistic option, McGuffie used his athleticism to become an Olympic bobsledder. If you cannot make it in the NFL, becoming an Olympic athlete is definitely not the worst fall-back plan.
5. Tim Couch
Tim Couch was a record-setting fiend back in his glory days. With national records set in career passing yards (12,104), career touchdowns (133), and career completions (872), Couch garnered the appropriate amount of praise for what he was able to accomplish during the extent of his time in prep school. There was no question that he would be on the list of every major college football program that was in the market for a superstar quarterback, and he did not disappoint when he arrived on Kentucky’s campus. The Bluegrass State native lifted that program to new heights in the nineties, which in-turn boosted his draft stock at the next level for teams with records bad enough to consider him.
The Cleveland Browns, just brought back into the league in 1999, had the first pick that year. Couch was the consensus number one overall pick. Everybody and their brother thought Couch could be a transcendent talent that would lead the Browns to relevancy sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, history does not have the luxury of remembering dumpster-fires fondly. The former Kentucky star faded quickly, posting a 22-37 record to go along with a 59% career completion percentage and 67 interceptions to just 64 touchdowns. Couch shouldn’t feel too badly about how his stint with the Browns went, as this franchise manages to destroy everything it touches.
4. Todd Marinovich
No list of NFL-burnouts would be complete without Todd Marinovich gracing us with his omnipotent presence. Notoriously bred to become an elite quarterback, Marinovich was one of the most exciting high school quarterbacks to ever touch the field. The Robo-QB became one of the all-time leading passers in California history, and drew immense interest from USC, as well as the nation. No one had ever seen something quite like Marinovich, whose diet and exercise regiments even as a child were geared toward him becoming the best quarterback in history. Through high school, at least, the prodigy was meeting the mark. What has been revealed in hundreds of interviews and research pieces, however, is the fact that Marinovich had already begun pumping himself full of drugs and self-doubt throughout high school. It would only get worse as he went to college and the NFL.
The Los Angeles Raiders selected him 24th overall in 1991, choosing their hometown boy over future Hall of Famer Brett Favre. As much as his life had prepared Marinovich for this moment, it was a precarious position to put a kid who had his entire existence planned out for him into the situation where he was suddenly on his own. Drugs and jail-time followed, but Todd actually managed to correct some personal issues because of the mistakes he made. In a fantastic reversal of fortune, Marinovich has returned to the game of football at 48 years old with the SoCal Coyotes, a World Developmental Football League team. While the fall from grace was horrific, this is a living example of how to recover from a lifetime’s worth of mistakes.
3. Dorial Green-Beckham
During the final game of Dorial Green-Beckham’s career, he finally broke the national high school receiving yardage record in a game where he burst out for a cool 303 yards and four touchdowns. Standing at 6’6, 225 pounds, DGB was the not only the number one recruit in the country, but an obvious candidate to go high in the first round of the NFL draft when the time came. No one in the 2011 recruiting class had as much buzz surrounding them as Green-Beckham, who was regularly catching 10+ passes for 300+ yards and multiple TDs as a man-among-boys.
As he transitioned to the college game, Green-Beckham looked like a legitimate deep threat and a big body that would become a stalwart NFL pass-catcher. However, the former first round draft pick got to the biggest stage and was shipped off to Philadelphia after striking out in Tennessee. To say DGB was ineffective would be an understatement. Drops littered the young receiver’s career, damaging his reputation as a reliable playmaker. The most important part of being a receiver is to catch the ball, yet after just two seasons as a pro, it seems that part of the game eluded one of the most promising young talents in recent memory.
2. Koy Detmer
In what may be a controversial addition to this list. Koy Detmer’s NFL career may have been long but he certainly did nothing to prove he deserved to be in the league. Over nine seasons, Detmer served as the perennial backup on an Eagles roster that featured Donovan McNabb from 1999 to the end of the Andy Reid era. Koy does, however deserve recognition when it comes to dominating on the high school level. Detmer’s time in high school under an explosive offense directed by he and his father, Sonny, has landed the former quarterback a spot in the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame. In just two years, Detmer racked up 8,221 passing yards and 82 touchdowns. In what was a dizzying display of efficiency and downfield explosiveness, it would be a glaring omission to leave his high school performance unmentioned.
At the professional level, however, nothing good can be said about the lifetime backup. Never good enough to start, but not bad enough to become expendable. Philadelphia fans groaned with the sight of Detmer taking the field during a stretch where McNabb was unavailable, knowing a win would be hard-pressed to acquire in an outing featuring the former Colorado Buffalo legend.
1. Michael Hart
As recently as 2013, Hart still held the record for most points scored in national high school football record books. His 200-yard games throughout high school are vast, almost run-of-the-mill if you take into account the sheer volume. Mike Hart was one of the most electric New York football players to ever hit the field in high school, challenging even Ernie Davis for that title, though the supporters of both will tell you firmly which one was the better. That type of hype surrounding Hart led to him being one of the hottest running back recruits of the 2000s, and it was no mystery why once he got to the next level. Michigan was lucky enough to gobble him up, and Mike did not disappoint, leading the Maize and Blue to some of their final relevant seasons before Lloyd Carr finally retired in 2007.
The Indianapolis Colts drafted Hart in the sixth round, and despite an injury history, it looked as though Indy had gained a valuable running back that could possibly have taken on a bell-cow role if things had worked out positively. Unfortunately for both the Colts and Hart, nothing much came of his three-year career in the league. Injury and ineffectiveness curtailed what could have been a promising stint, as Hart proved to be an extremely limited talent on the elite level.
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