The story of LeBron James’s high school football career has become an urban legend. Any video evidence of LeBron’s dominance on the field is limited to 25-seconds-or-less highlight reels, as if extended footage were banned by the government.
What we do know is this: LeBron already stood 6-foot-6 as a freshman, and he had the type of speed that would make even the quickest track star jealous. Plenty of tales about LeBron’s ability have been told over the years, but one of them, related by a former quarterback at Saint Vincent St. Mary High School in Akron, who spoke with Bleacher Report, sums up LeBron’s alien-like abilities.
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As the story goes, SVSM headed into the fourth quarter of its 1999 Division IV qualifier against Wickliffe with a big ol’ goose egg on the scoreboard. LeBron James, a freshman, sat on the bench in full pads, having yet to see a minute of action on the varsity squad all season. But as quarterback Chris Wooley recounts it, everyone already knew what a total freak LeBron was. He just needed to convince his coach to put LeBron into the game for some immediate help.
The St. Vincent-St. Mary quarterback first noticed James’s transcendent athletic ability a few weeks earlier while walking behind him going through the school’s gym. As James walked past midcourt, he scooped up a nearby volleyball and began sprinting toward the hoop. About a foot past the foul line, James took off, spinning 360 degrees in the air before finishing off the dunk with authority. As James fell to the ground, so did Wooley’s jaw. James nonchalantly walked off the court. Wooley remained stunned.
“We have to get this kid in the game,” Wooley thought.
Looking up at the zero on the scoreboard, Wooley went up to the coaching staff and began yelling.
“Put him in! Put him in!” Wooley said as the coaches looked back at him with bewilderment. “I don’t care if he only knows one play or what the problem is that you won’t put him in the game. Put him in.”
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Wooley got his wish. LeBron made his high school football debut on offense in the fourth quarter, running only fade routes, gos and screens because he didn’t yet know the full playbook. It didn’t matter. He caught almost every ball thrown to him, with two hands or one. He dwarfed Wickliffe’s defenders, and he ended the game with a statline that many wideouts don’t achieve over a full game: over 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns in a single quarter. SVSM lost, 15-14, but LeBron’s performance that day set up the rest of his high school football career.
LeBron is currently seventh is SVSM history with 27 career touchdowns and third in receptions despite playing just two full seasons. He was recruited by schools like Florida State, Ohio State, Notre Dame and USC, but chose to roll with basketball instead. That seems to be working out OK for the three-time NBA champion. For now, all we can do is watch these 20-second highlight reels and dream of what it would have been like had LeBron picked the gridiron over the hardcourt.