Powerhouse High Schools That Keep Making Pros
Whether it’s the result of location, coaching, luck, all of the above or something else entirely, certain high schools simply have a knack for producing professional athletes.
Schools such as St. Thomas Aquinas, Long Beach Polytechnic and DeMatha Catholic have halls and, with extraordinary consistency, some of world’s finest athletes have graced them. Athletes like Michael Irvin (St. Thomas Aquinas), Tony Gwynn (Long Beach Poly) and Adrian Dantley (DeMatha) laid a path to the pros for others to follow…and oh so many did just that.
Though sometimes overlooked, high schools develop the athletes that feed the pros. Of course, some do it better than others and on a more consistent basis. So, with this in mind, we’ve decided to feature the very best, ranking the Top 10 Powerhouse High Schools That Keep Making Pros.
Before we get started, though, let’s review the ranking formula. For starters, specialist schools—like Glades Central in football and Oak Hill in basketball, to name a couple—did not qualify. This list celebrates the schools that, over the years, produced a large number of professional athletes in a wide range of sports.
From there, we considered each school’s total number of pros first and foremost, and then the success and relevance of those pros. In other words, the bigger the name the better, and though the past was considered, the present was valued more.
With that out of the way, then, let’s begin our tour of America’s most athletic high schools.
Close, but No Cigar
Because rules prevented an impressive group of “specialist” schools from making our list, we’ve gone out of our way to honor many of them here. We’ve also included some schools that met all our requirements, but still missed the cut. Either way, these honorable mention nominees claim their fair share of professional talent:
10. St. Ignatius High School, Wildcats
We begin our list in Cleveland, Ohio with a small Catholic school that produces pro athletes like chickens produce eggs.
Two traditional sports—football and baseball—get a majority of the attention at St. Ignatius, and deservedly so. Brian Dowling—a former QB and Heisman finalist while starring at Yale—kicked things off in 1969, when he joined the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.
Oliver Luck continued the pro tradition when he was drafted in 1982, and he also gets credit here for giving the world one Andrew Luck. On the diamond, Mike Buddie paved the way for future Wildcats, joining the Yankees in 1998.
Of course, St. Ignatius wouldn’t have made this list if it hadn’t produced some bigger, more relevant pros. In the ‘90s, future NFL mainstays LeCharles Bentley and Chris Hovan could be seen walking the halls of St. Ignatius, and Cleveland Browns QB Brian Hoyer—with the help of WR Anthony Gonzalez and OL Jacob Bell—carries the torch today.
The high school also lays claim to numerous active MLBers, including Derek Dietrich (Miami Marlins) and Matt Kata (Texas Rangers).
On our list, diversity counts, too, and Ignatius qualifies here easily. In 1990, Timothy Mack was a Wildcat. In 2004, Mack pole-vaulted his way to an Olympic gold medal.
The school has also been kind to the MLS, sending both Justin Morrow (San Jose Earthquakes) and Barry Rice (DC United) the league’s way.
9. Simeon Career Academy, Wolverines
This Chicago pro-sport factory hasn’t been quite as prolific as some of the other schools on our list. It has, however, produced pros in multiple sports and is seriously distinguished in the “bang-for-the-buck” department.
As most know, Simeon’s true claim to fame rests on the hardwood, where notable NBAer Nick Anderson made a name for himself and the school in the middle of the ‘80s.
The rock hardly stopped there, though, as both Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls and Jabari Parker of the Milwaukee Bucks rep the school today. It’s worth noting, this list would be longer and more impressive if not for Ben Wilson’s tragic death in November of 1984.
As for the school’s “secondary” athletes, outfielder Wes Chamberlain made it pro in 1990 when he signed a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies and, along the gridiron, safety Martez Wilson continues inflicting pain today, now on behalf of the New Orleans Saints.
8. Susan Miller Dorsey High School, Dons
The school was a virtual baseball factory in the early 1950s, producing long-time pros like Billy Consolo and Ed Palmquist, in addition to Hall of Famer George “Sparky” Anderson.
Dorsey’s tradition of excellence on the diamond has hardly dissipated, either, with former Dons like Chili Davis (former player, current Oakland Athletics coach) and Derrel Thomas (LA Dodgers) still collecting checks today.
With all that said, football is clearly Dorsey’s bread and butter. Over the years, it has sent countless students to the pro ranks, including stars such as Hue Jackson, Butch Johnson, Na’il Diggs, Rahim Moore, Dennis Northcutt and former No. 1 overall draft pick Keyshawn Johnson.
Finally, with the school’s well-rounded athletics in mind, we should mention James Wilkes, who spent three seasons (1980-82) with the Chicago Bulls.
7. Junipero Serra High School, Padres
This California high school checks all the boxes.
It has produced close to 20 professional athletes across three different sports—football, basketball and baseball—and has remained relevant with numerous alumni still getting it done, including Green Bay Packer offensive tackle David Bakhtiari.
What sets Serra apart, however, are the legendary superstars for which it is responsible. That list includes the likes of NFL Hall of Famer Lynn Swann, home-run king Barry Bonds and three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady.
The remaining schools on our list outrank Serra in quantity, but no school in America is responsible for better quality.
Forget high schools for a moment. How many colleges can claim they’ve produced this decade’s best baseball player and its best quarterback, in addition to one of the greatest wide receivers in football history? Not many.
And to think we still have six more schools to go…
6. Miami Northwestern Senior High School, Bulls
To call Northwestern anything other than a football power would be misleading.
It’s alumni list of current and former NFLers is downright disgusting: Brett Perriman, Marvin Jones, Nate Webster, Marvin “Snoop” Minnis, Antonio Bryant, Vernon Carey, Torrie Cox, Lavonte David, Sean Spence, Marcus Forston, Trevor Ford and Teddy Bridgewater, to name just a few.
Oh, and in approximately eight months, Alabama star wideout Amari Cooper will unquestionably join this prestigious list.
Of course, we’re honoring athletic programs that are as versatile as they are prolific, rather than more focused specialists.
As a result, we must acknowledge former Bull Stan McKenzie, who played pro basketball from 1966-1973, and Tim James, who spent three years in the NBA (1999-2001) and another couple playing abroad.
We’d also be remiss if we left out Olympian Tiffany Ross-Williams. The former Northwestern star has an impressive pro resume, which includes national championships in the 400-meter hurdle in both 2007 and 2008.
5. Mater Dei High School, Monarch Lions
Though some of the schools we’ve already mentioned may have more overall star power, this California private school is responsible for more than 20 professional athletes in an astonishing six different sports—football, basketball, baseball, soccer (Robbie Rogers), wrestling (Tiki Ghosn) and pole vault (Greg Woepse).
John Huarte dominated opponents on the Mater Dei gridiron in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s and eventually won a Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame before enjoying a 10-year pro career.
Today, guys like Matt Barkley (Philadelphia Eagles), Colt Brennan (drafted by Washington, current free agent), Khaled Holmes (Indianapolis Colts) and Matt Leinart (drafted by Arizona, current free agent) make Monarchs everywhere proud.
Mater Dei sports an impressive list of baseball pros as well. Sergio Santos saves games for the Toronto Blue Jays while Danny Espinosa holds down second for the Washington Nationals.
On the hardwood, numerous current and former pros once attended Mater Dei, including LeRon Ellis, Jamal Sampson, Miles Simon, DJ Strawberry and both Travis and David Wear.
We should also acknowledge Stanley Johnson—one of 2014’s top recruits—who currently suits up for the Arizona Wildcats, but will more than likely call the NBA home sooner than later.
4. De La Salle High School, Spartans
More than any of the schools previously mentioned, California’s De La Salle is responsible for producing stars of both yesterday and today across numerous professional leagues.
In football, offensive guard Aaron Taylor gained notoriety in 1994 when the Green Bay Packers selected him in the first round of the NFL draft.
Of course, De La Salle’s gridiron tradition hardly ended then, with alumni such as Amani Toomer (former Giant), TJ Ward (Denver), Maurice Jones-Drew (Oakland) and DJ Williams (Chicago) managing to star on Sundays, too.
Former Spartans have also found tremendous success on the hardwood, including legends like Jon and Brent Barry.
In soccer as well, De La Salle helped numerous athletes realize their professional dreams, and that list includes Seattle Sounders goalie Stefan Frei and US National team forward Chris Wondolowski.
The school also contributed to the success achieved by Chicago Cubs catcher John David Baker and American diver Kristian Ipsen, who won a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympic Games.
3. DeMatha Catholic High School, Stags
Like De La Salle, Dematha high school of Hyattsville, Maryland, has a long-standing tradition of athletic excellence, producing a large number of stars in numerous sports and throughout multiple generations.
In basketball alone, 15 current or former pros cut their teeth on DeMatha’s courts.
As you’d imagine, the list is an impressive one, beginning most notably in the '70s with Kenny Carr and Adrian Dantley. Guys like Sidney Lowe (1983-90) and Danny Ferry (1989-2003) continued the school’s illustrious tradition, while Keith Bogans (Boston) and Orlando’s Victor Oladipo—the No. 2 overall pick in 2013—ensure its basketball relevance today.
DeMatha’s comparable success on the gridiron is as impressive as it is unique. Linebacker Mike Johnson was a Stag in the late ‘70s and a Pro Bowler by 1989.
He was followed by standouts such as running back Brian Westbrook (2002-10), defensive end Cameron Wake (2007-present) and offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio (drafted 44th overall in 2014).
Its athletic success is hardly confined to the two aforementioned sports, however. Derek Mills won a gold medal in track and field at the 1996 Summer Olympics. Jordan Graye (Carolina RailHawks) and Drew Yates (Charlotte Eagles) currently play soccer professionally, and Paul Rabil (Philadelphia Wings) competes on the professional lacrosse circuit (the MLL).
Oh, and we better not forget Coy Gibbs, who once drove cars fast for a living before serving as an assistant coach with the Washington Redskins. You may know Gibbs better for his current line of work: He now owns Joe Gibbs Racing Motocross.
2. Long Beach Polytechnic, Jackrabbits
Like each of the schools previously mentioned, Long Beach Poly—located in Long Beach, California—schooled a hoard of future pros.
None of those institutions, however, match Poly’s absurd numbers and diverse production. In all, more than 50 Jackrabbits—in 11 different sports—realized their professional dreams.
From professional racing to skateboarding, water polo and hockey, Poly grads reached the pinnacle in a wide range of sports.
The powerhouse high school is not without more traditional stars, either.
Tennis great Billie Jean King walked the Poly halls.
In baseball, stars like Milton Bradley, Tony Gwynn and Chase Utley once donned Poly’s green and gold.
On the hardwood, Tyus Edney and Morlon Wiley played with Jackrabbit pride.
And on the football field, elite talents like Willie McGinest, Manuel Wright, Winston Justice, Marcedes Lewis and DeSean Jackson cemented Poly excellence.
Some of the lower-ranked schools may have slightly more star power, but none combine that strength with Cal Poly’s sheer numbers or unique diversity.
1. St. Thomas Aquinas High Schook, Raiders
We end our tour of elite high schools with Fort Lauderdale’s St. Thomas Aquinas, a school that has given to the pro sports world in just about every way imaginable.
Foluke Akinradewo is a professional volleyball player and was a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Sanya Richard-Ross took part in the very same Olympics and won gold in the Women’s 400-meter race.
Both are former Raiders. You can also add professional swimmers, divers and discuss throwers to the lengthy list of distinguished Aquinas athletes.
Of course, Aquinas excels in the slightly more traditional sports, too.
In soccer, Eric Eichmann kicked things off for the Raiders and eventually made it to a World Cup, suiting up for the 1990 U.S. Men’s National Team. Eichmann, though, merely set the stage, as bigger names such as India Trotter and Alejandro Bedoya built on his legacy. Bedoya, in particular, is a familiar name to soccer fans after appearing for the U.S. in all four of its 2014 World Cup matches.
Not to be confined, Aquinas excels in tennis and golf as well, producing world champions in both. Over the years, three Raider tennis stars reached pro status, though Hall of Famer Chris Evert is clearly the most renowned of the group. And, on the links, 2013 PGA Champion Jason Dufner only strengthens the Aquinas reputation for excellence.
As one would imagine, the Raiders play some solid baseball, too. Former Raider Mike Stanley was a 1995 American League All-Star, while Tyler Greene currently suits up for the San Diego Padres.
What pushes Aquinas over the top, however, is its prowess on the gridiron. Household names like Brian Piccolo and Michael Irvin exemplify the school's impressive history and tradition. Meanwhile, its current crop of NFLers is about as impressive as it gets.
Guys like Major Wright, Lamarcus Joyner, Leonard Hankerson and Marcus Gilbert play meaningful roles on rosters today, while Geno Atkins and Giovani Bernard represent two of the very best the NFL has to offer.
In a group of giants, Aquinas stands the tallest—with the history, numbers, prestige and relevance to stake its claim as the most athletic high school in all of America.