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|Maurice Jones-Drew is one of six De La Salle High School graduates currently in the NFL.|
He's also part of De La Salle history, having played on the last team to lose before the Spartans embarked on a national-record win streak of 151 games, which ended in 1994. When De La Salle lost to rivals Pittsburg in the CIF-North Coast Section, 3A final, Toomer walked off the field with a sour taste before heading for a stellar career at Michigan.
The loss could not overshadow a fine career at the all-male Catholic school located in northern California near Berkeley.
"The thing I learned from high school football was the focus it takes to be successful," said Toomer, who became the Giants' all-time leading wide receiver earlier this fall. "We had a very successful run at De La Salle, and what I remember most about it was that everybody was really focused about playing every week.
"It was just a good feeling that you knew the guy next to you was going to try his hardest to be the best and you could trust him," he said.
Ladouceur recalls, "Amani hated to lose; he showed up for big games. He was generally quiet but a fierce competitor."
Bill McGregor, the NFL's 2004 High School Coach of the Year, from DeMatha maintains a close relationship with all five, which are on speed dial.
"I called them all before the season to say how proud we are of them," said McGregor, whose team is No. 20 in the current ESPN HIGH Elite 25 high school rankings. "It's quite an accomplishment and says something about their hard work."Not even the swirl of Xs and Os and thousands of faces over the years can dull McGregor's images of his players. Here's a snippet of the each player, provided by McGregor:
Jacob Bender, Jets: "One of the biggest overachievers I've coached."
Quinn Ojinnaka, Atlanta Falcons: "At first, he resisted attending DeMatha. He made excuses to his mother and me about switching from a public to private school."
John Owens, New Orleans Saints: "A polite, well-mannered, and respectful young man."
Josh Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: "Quick witted with a great smile."
Brian Westbrook, Eagles: "A great, focused competitor. You can't measure what's inside."
Said Westbrook, "He (Bill McGregor) continues to be an inspiration and source of support."
Additionally, McGregor said two players -- Byron Westbrook (Brian's brother) and Brian Bell -- are one Washington's practice squad and another, Cameron Wake, is defensive end for the CFL's British Columbia Lions.In Florida, Jacksonville quarterback Quinn Gray, who attended Dillard, experienced heartache this summer. His father, Otis Gray, who coached wide receiver Isaac Bruce (of the St. Louis Rams) at Dillard in the 1980s, died of colon cancer. Quinn Gray, a fourth year player from Florida A&M, learned of his father's passing prior to a preseason game in Green Bay but elected to play "because that is what my dad would want me to do," he said in a team issued statement. Current Dillard alums are Gray, who did not play for his father, along with Bruce; Chris Gamble and Stanley McClover, both of the Carolina Panthers; and Jovan Haye, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"The big thing about going to Dillard was the tradition. It started back when my dad (Otis Gray) was a coach there from 1979-90. He started a real tradition as far as winning football games and excellence in the classroom," said Quinn, whose father came back for one final season in 2006.
Hometowns with most players also reflect statewide figures: Miami (with 37 players); Houston (32); and Los Angeles and San Diego (13). Removed from the Sunbelt are Midwest rustbelt cities of Detroit (with 13 players); Cincinnati and St. Louis (12); Cleveland (11); and Chicago (10).American Samoa supplies four players, including two with the Cincinnati Bengals -- defensive tackle Domata Peko and defensive end Jonathan Fanene -- plus Miami DT Paul Soliai and San Francisco DT Isaac Sopoaga. Players with foreign roots include 11 from Canada; three from Australia; and one from England (Rhys Lloyd, Ravens).
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also for worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y. and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.