True greatness came later

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For every Ronald Curry, there's a Lawrence Taylor.

For every Leroy Keyes, there's a Chris Hanburger.

For every Walter Bowser, there's a Kwamie Lassiter.

For every Doug Dickinson, there's a Dwight Stephenson.

And for every Earl Faison, there's a Mel Gray.

The Peninsula has had its share of high school athletic phenoms who attracted nationwide attention.

And the Peninsula has had its share of high school athletes who, while lightly regarded in high school, developed into athletes who played professionally at the highest level.

LAWRENCE TAYLOR

The story is almost legendary, how Mel Jones recruited Taylor out of the halls at Lafayette

Taylor was a baseball player, a rather large catcher. Jones thought he had enough athletic talent to help the football team.

Taylor played well enough by his senior year in 1976 to make the Eastern Region second team at defensive end, and he earned a scholarship to the University of North Carolina.

At UNC, he bounced around from position to position until coaches finally decided to put him at outside linebacker.

Halfway through his junior year, everything clicked. Taylor became a terror on defense.

Before his senior season in 1980, an assistant coach told an unbelieving sports writer that Taylor would be a first-round draft choice the next spring. Taylor backed up his coach's assessment, feasting on opposing quarterbacks and ball-carriers in an All- American season. The Atlantic Coast Conference named him its Most Valuable Player.

Taylor was a first-round pick. The New York Giants drafted him with the No. 2 selection and his impact was immediate. Before his career ended in 1993, he had played in 10 Pro Bowls, was the NFL Player of the Year in 1986, sacked quarterbacks 142 times and had 1,088 tackles.

The NFL named him to its Hall of Fame in 1999.

CHRIS HANBURGER

Hanburger didn't go to college immediately after high school. He joined the Army, then accepted a scholarship from the University of North Carolina.

Hanburger played both ways for UNC and was the all-Atlantic Coast Conference center as a junior and senior. The Washington Redskins picked him in the 18th round in 1965 and installed him at linebacker.

That 18th-round draft choice wound up playing for the Redskins from 1965 to 1978. He played in nine Pro Bowls in 14 years, the most by any player in franchise history.

DWIGHT STRPHENSON

Stephenson didn't start playing football until his junior year at Hampton High. He started as a senior on the Crabbers' 1975 state championship team and was named second team all-state center. He wasn't heavily recruited, but did catch the eye of legendary Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.

Stephenson played on two national championship teams at Alabama, and Bryant later called him the best center he ever coached.

The Miami Dolphins drafted Stephenson in the second round in 1980. He played eight years for the Dolphins until a knee injury ended his career. He made five Pro Bowls and was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1998.

KWAMIE LASSITER

Lassiter played quarterback and defensive back and ran track for Menchville. He spent two seasons at Butler County Community College in Kansas, then three more seasons with the University of Kansas.

Lassiter played three seasons at Kansas but was only a second- team all-Big Eight pick, and he wasn't drafted by an NFL team. After going through a series of tryouts, he signed as a free agent with the Arizona Cardinals in 1995. He finally made the starting lineup a few seasons later and spent eight years with the Cardinals before joining the San Diego Chargers last year. Lassiter tied the NFL single-game record with four interceptions in 1998.

MEL GRAY

Gray had the best credentials coming out of high school. He rushed for more than 1,300 yards for Lafayette as a senior and was an All-American running back at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. Perhaps an indicator of things to come was when he ran a kickoff back 106 yards against the Arkansas JV. If Mel Gray is remembered for anything, it's as one of the finest kick returners in NFL history.

Gray played at Purdue, then signed with Los Angeles of the United States Football League. He joined New Orleans of the NFL in 1986, and before he retired after the 1997 season, he returned 421 kickoffs for 10,250 yards. He's now second in NFL history in both categories to Brian Mitchell, and his six touchdown returns ties him with three others for the league record. Combining kickoff and punt returns, he also ranks second in career totals to Mitchell.

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