Most Terrifying High School Athletes of All Time
High school sports are the end of the road for most athletes. After winning a varsity letter or two, they call it a career, and nobody remembers much about their playing days.
But sometimes, high school sports have rare athletes we never forget. They look like men playing against boys or women playing against girls, with size and skills that seem superhuman.
These are the most terrifying high school athletes of all time.
Note: Only athletes who played interscholastic sports were eligible, meaning they had to play for an actual high school when they were a teenager, not just club or professional sports.
30. Bob Mathias
High school: Tulare Union High School (Tulare, California)
Sports: Track and Field, Football
Graduation year: 1948
Bottom line: Can you imagine if an athlete today accomplished what Bob Mathias did at his age?
Tulare Union High's Mathias tried out for and made the 1948 U.S.Olympic team and shocked the entire world by winning a decathlon gold medal at just 17 years old, which made him the youngest track and field gold medal winner ever.
Mathias repeated as the Olympic gold medalist in 1952, where Tulare Union teammate Sim Iness also won a gold medal in the discus. Mathias also played running back for Stanford and led them to the 1952 Rose Bowl, which was also the first nationally televised football game.
29. Denise Long
High school: Union-Whitten High School (Union, Iowa)
Graduation year: 1969
Bottom line: The most well-known girls basketball player in Iowa history, Denise Long averaged a stunning 69.6 points as a senior at Union-Whitten High School and once scored 111 points in a single game.
The San Francisco Warriors selected her in the 13th round of the 1969 NBA draft. It was a publicity stunt by owner Franlin Meuli, but she remains the only woman drafted in NBA history.
Long played one season in a pro league set up by the Warriors and got to meet Wilt Chamberlain, who joked about her eclipsing his 100-point mark. Her reply? "I didn't mean to, though."
28. Albert Pujols
High school: Fort Osage High School (Independence, Missouri)
Graduation year: 1998
Bottom line: Albert Pujols did not get as much acclaim as other high school athletes, but the three-time National League Most Valuable Player deserves to be here.
Pujols was terrifying in the two seasons he played for Fort Osage High School, but that was for a specific reason, and one stat shows how much he scared opposing teams. His senior season, Pujos walked 55 times in 88 at-bats. This was out of respect for his talents and also out protest. Most coaches believed Pujols, who was born in the Dominican Republic, was older than he said.
For his part, Pujols hit eight home runs in the 33 at-bats he did have.
27. Derrick Brooks
High school: Booker T. Washington High School (Pensacola, Florida)
Graduation year: 1991
Bottom line: The fear opposing running backs and quarterbacks felt the night before facing future Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks in high school must have been paralyzing.
There may never have been a high school football player who hit harder than Booker T. Washington High's Brooks, who hit the football scene in Pensacola, Florida, just years after running back Emmitt Smith played for rival Escambia High.
Brooks was selected to the Florida High School Athletic Association's All-Century Team in 2007. He also won a national championship at Florida State, a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014.
26. Morgan Brian
High school: Frederica Academy (St. Simon's Island, Georgia)
Sports: Soccer, Basketball
Graduation year: 2011
Bottom line: No one was spared the helpless feeling that came over girls soccer teams when they had to play Frederica Academy's Morgan Brian.
Brian wasn't the biggest player and was nicknamed "Plankton" in junior soccer for her diminutive stature. But she racked up 185 goals and 95 assists in four seasons and won four consecutive state championships. Which proves that being terrifying isn't always about size.
Brian, who also was an All-State basketball player, was named Georgia Player of the Year twice in soccer and became the first soccer player named Gatorade National Athlete of the Year in 2011.
25. Jim Brown
High school: Manhasset Secondary School (Manhasset, New York)
Sports: Football, Basketball, Baseball, Lacrosse
Graduation year: 1953
Bottom line: Jim Brown was the Paul Bunyan of high school athletics at Manhasset Secondary Academy as a star in lacrosse, basketball, baseball and football.
In football, he was the Nassau County Player of the Year. In basketball, he averaged a state-record 38 points per game, and in lacrosse, he was also all-state.
Brown was an All-American at Syracuse in lacrosse and football, then retired after nine seasons in the NFL, where he set the career rushing record and won an NFL championship in 1964.
24. David Clyde
High school: Westchester High School (Houston, Texas)
Graduation year: 1973
Bottom line: Few prospects in baseball history have been treated with the revered status of Westchester High's David Clyde. As a senior, Clyde went 18-0 with five no-hitters and gave up only three earned runs in 148 innings while setting 14 national records.
He was selected No. 1 overall by the Texas Rangers in the 1973 MLB draft and given the largest signing bonus in history to that point — $125,000. Eager to cash in on their young pitcher's fame in his home state, Clyde's first start was in the majors, which the 18-year-old won, but the Rangers sped up his development to the point where he got injured from overuse.
Clyde only played five seasons in the majors.
23. Julio Jones
High school: Foley High School (Foley, Alabama)
Sport: Football, Track and Field
Graduation year: 2008
Bottom line: Perhaps the most can't-miss high school wide receiver prospect in history, Julio Jones was nicknamed "Waffle House" because he was always open. Jones was impossible to stop on a football field for his final two seasons of high school football at Foley High and was named Alabama's Mr. Football as a senior in 2007.
Jones was just as dominant in track and field. He won state championships in both long jump and triple jump as a junior and senior, and was also the state champion in high jump as a senior, when he was named Alabama Gatorade Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
Jones won a national championship at Alabama and was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons. He's considered one of the greatest wide receivers of all time and a surefire Hall of Famer.
22. Julius Peppers
High school: Southern Nash High School (Bailey, North Carolina)
Sports: Football, Basketball, Track and Field
Graduation year: 1998
Bottom line: Julius Peppers' once-in-a-generation athleticism was on display in high school. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound defensive end/running back was all-state in basketball and won a state championship as a sprinter in track.
He chose a North Carolina football scholarship over a Duke basketball scholarship, then played both sports for the Tar Heels. His 15 sacks in 2000 were one shy of tying Lawrence Taylor’s single-season UNC record.
Peppers, a nine-time Pro Bowler, tallied $164.7 million in career earnings and retired following the 2018 season.
21. Leonard Fournette
High school: St. Augustine High School (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Graduation year: 2014
Bottom line: Leonard Fournette was one of the first high school athletes to experience the full effect of social media hype. And it was all justified.
Fournette's accomplishments at St. Augustine High in New Orleans are still legendary. He was rated the No. 1 overall recruit in the Class of 2014 and considered a once-in-a-generation running back. Fournette was named the USA Today Offensive Player of the Year in 2013 and played in several nationally televised games on ESPN, which added to the fervor.
The crazy thing about Fournette? He's in his fifth NFL season and still the same height and weight he was as a high school senior — 6-foot-1 and 226 pounds.
20. Bryce Harper
High school: Las Vegas High School (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Graduation year: 2009
Bottom line: LeBron James was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was a junior. Las Vegas High baseball star Bryce Harper did him one better and was on the cover as a sophomore.
Harper obtained his GED that same year and played junior college baseball when he should've been a junior. This allowed him to enter the MLB draft one year earlier than expected, where he was the No. 1 overall pick by the Washington Nationals in 2010, when he was 17 years old.
Following the 2018 season, Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, which was the largest in North American sports history at the time.
19. Bo Jackson
High school: McAdory High School (McCalla, Alabama)
Sports: Football, Baseball, Track and Field
Graduation year: 1982
Bottom line: What would it have been like for the poor kids playing football against McAdory High and Bo Jackson in the early 1980s? Pain. Lots of it.
Now spread that out among three sports. Jackson hit 20 home runs in 25 baseball games as a senior. He also set state high jump and triple jump records in track and field, and won the state championship in the decathlon twice.
Jackson, who went on to play in the NFL and MLB, had such a commanding lead in the decathlon both years that he didn't even run the 1,500 meters, which he disdained.
18. Breanna Stewart
High school: Cicero-North Syracuse High School (Cicero, New York)
Graduation year: 2012
Bottom line: Breanna Stewart won four consecutive national championships at UConn, and it was easy to wonder if the games were even challenging for the 6-foot-4 forward.
In high school, it was hardly any different. Stewart actually played five years of high school basketball and averaged nine points, seven rebounds and seven blocks as an eighth-grader.
Stewart, the 2012 Gatorade National Player of the Year, has won two WNBA championships as a member of the Seattle Storm, is a two-time WNBA Finals MVP and WNBA MVP in 2018.
17. Randy Moss
High school: Dupont High School (Belle, West Virginia)
Sports: Football, Basketball
Graduation year: 1995
Bottom line: It was futile trying to stop Randy Moss on a football field in college and the NFL. Imagine what it was like in high school.
Former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz called Moss "the best high school football player" he'd ever seen, and he was named to Parade Magazine’s list of the 50 greatest high school football players of all time in 2009.
Moss was the West Virginia Player of the Year in football once and basketball twice, where he played alongside future NBA point guard Jason Williams. Moss won a national championship at Marshall, played 15 seasons in the NFL and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.
16. Cat Osterman
High school: Cypress Springs High School (Cypress, Texas)
Graduation year: 2001
Bottom line: It wasn't fun to step in the box against Cypress Springs High pitcher Cat Osterman, who is arguably the greatest fast-pitch player of all time.
In Osterman's senior season of 2001 she set several national records, including 33 strikeouts in a 1-0, 14-inning shutout win over Cy-Fair High.
Osterman was named Gatorade National Player of the Year and signed with Texas, where she was the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year as a freshman in 2002. She also set two NCAA records for freshman that season with five no-hitters and three perfect games.
15. Dorial Green-Beckham
High school: Hillcrest High School (Springfield, Missouri)
Graduation year: 2012
Bottom line: There was literally no one who could stop Dorial Green-Beckham on a football field in high school, where he was a two-time USA Today All-American and the 2012 USA Today Offensive Player of the Year for Hillcrest High School.
Green-Beckham set the national high school career receiving record with 6,356 yards and was the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit — probably the most coveted wide receiver recruit of the last decade.
He picked in-state Missouri but was dismissed from the team after two seasons and two drug arrests. He was out of the NFL after two seasons and arrested again on drug charges in December 2018.
14. Robert Nkemdiche
High school: Grayson High School (Loganville, Georgia)
Graduation year: 2013
Bottom line: One of the few players to be a consensus No. 1 national recruit and receive a 1.000 rating from 247Sports, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche was the nation's No. 1 recruit wire-to-wire for the Class of 2013 for every major recruiting service.
The idea of high school offensive lineman trying to block Nkemidche, who was 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds as a senior, is truly nightmarish.
Nkemdiche didn't handle the pressure well once he left high school. At Ole Miss, he had a highly publicized drug arrest in 2015 but was still selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft and was out of the NFL after four seasons.
13. Lisa Leslie
High school: Morningside High School (Inglewood, California)
Graduation year: 1990
Bottom line: How dominant was future three-time WNBA Most Valuable Player Lisa Leslie at Morningside High School? She once scored 101 points in a single half, and the opposing team refused to come out of the locker room after halftime.
Leslie, a 6-foot-5 center, won two CIF state championships for Morningside, where she had over 100 scholarship offers before she played her first varsity game.
Leslie played college basketball for USC and was a three-time All-American and the 1994 National Player of the Year. She also was the first woman to dunk in a WNBA game.
12. Adrian Peterson
High school: Palestine High School (Palestine, Texas)
Sport: Football, Track and Field
Graduation year: 2004
Bottom line: There aren't many players mentioned in the conversation about who might have been good enough to go straight from high school football to the NFL, but Adrian Peterson usually tops the list.
At tiny Palestine High School, Peterson was the U.S. Army National Player of the Year and also won the Class 4A state championship in the 100-meter dash as a senior in 2004.
As a true freshman at the University of Oklahoma, he was the Heisman Trophy runner-up and led the Sooners to the BCS championship game. He was named NFL Most Valuable Player in 2012 after he rushed for 2,097 yards.
11. Jim Ryun
High school: Wichita East High School (Wichita, Kansas)
Sport: Track and Field
Graduation year: 1965
Bottom line: Voted the greatest high school athlete of all time by ESPN.com, Wichita East High School track star Jim Ryun's set the record for the mile run with a time of 3:55.3 as a senior in 1965.
That record stood for 36 years, and it also wasn't the first time Ryun ran the mile in under four minutes. He broke four minutes as a junior and made it to the semifinals of the 1,500-meter run at the Olympics following that year.
Ryun ran in the Olympics two more times, in 1968 and 1972, when he won a silver medal in Mexico City.
10. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
High school: Power Memorial High School (New York City, New York)
Graduation year: 1965
Bottom line: No high school basketball player from his era captured the public's imagination like Power Memorial High center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was then known as Lew Alcindor.
Abdul-Jabbar went 79-2 in three seasons at Power Memorial, winning three New York city championships, two mythical national championships and finishing as national runner-up as a senior.
Abdul-Jabbar met the nation for the first time on an episode of "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1963 that became one of the most iconic moments in the show's history.
9. Cheryl Miller
High school: Riverside Polytechnic High School (Riverside, California)
Graduation year: 1982
Bottom line: One of the best stories Hall of Famer Reggie Miller tells about growing up in California is excitedly telling his father he scored 40 points in a high school game. His father then informed him that Reggie's older sister Cheryl scored 105 points in a game that same night.
Cheryl Miller was the first four-time Parade All-American, male or female, and was the first female to dunk in a game, on any level. She won two NCAA championships at USC and was the three-time National Player of the Year.
8. Jadeveon Clowney
High school: South Pointe High School (South Pointe, South Carolina)
Graduation year: 2011
Bottom line: The thought of Jadeveon Clowney teeing off on high school competition makes us shudder. He was the first modern player to be a consensus No. 1 overall recruit across the major recruiting services, and with good reason.
As a senior, the 6-foot-6, 240-pound defensive end had 29.5 sacks, 162 tackles and five defensive touchdowns.
He stayed close to home to play for the University of South Carolina and was the No. 1 overall pick by the Houston Texans in the 2014 NFL draft.
7. Wilt Chamberlain
High school: Overbrook High School (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Sports: Basketball, Track and Field
Graduation year: 1955
Bottom line: In the summer of 1953, famed Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach set up a 1-on-1 game between two young men working at Kutsher's Hotel and Country Club in the Catskills — 1953 NCAA Finals Most Outstanding Player B.H. Born of the University of Kansas and Overbrook High School junior Wilt Chamberlain.
Chamberlain won, 25-10, which shook Born so much he turned his back on an NBA career and quit basketball altogether.
The hurt put on opposing high school players by Chamberlain, 7-foot-1, was much worse. He averaged 37.4 points over three seasons at Overbrook High and won two city championships.
6. Marcus Dupree
High school:Philadelphia High School (Philadelphia, Mississippi)
Graduation year: 1982
Bottom line: One of the great ESPN "30 for 30" documentaries was "The Best That Never Was" about Mississippi schoolboy running back Marcus Dupree.
There was nothing about Dupree that didn't strike fear into opponents in high school, where he was already 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds and reportedly recorded a 4.29-second 40-yard dash.
Dupree rushed for 7,355 yards and set the national record with 87 touchdowns in high school, then picked Oklahoma after a national recruiting battle. Dupree flamed out in college and played briefly in the USFL and NFL.
5. Marion Jones
High school: Thousand Oaks High School (Thousand Oaks, California)
Sports: Track and Field, Basketball
Graduation year: 1992
Bottom line: Marion Jones was the California Gatorade Track and Field Athlete of the year twice and Track and Field News National Athlete of the Year twice in high school.
Jones won the state championship in the 100-meter dash all four years and was also the California Division I Player of the Year in basketball as a senior, when she averaged 22.4 points and 10.4 rebounds. She went on to win an NCAA title at North Carolina and also play in the WNBA.
Even in high school, doping allegations dogged Jones, who hired famed attorney Johnnie Cochran to defend her. Jones was sentenced to six months and prison and forced to return her five Olympic medals in 2008 for using performance-enhancing drugs.
4. Zion Williamson
High school: Spartanburg Day School (Salisbury, North Carolina)
Graduation year: 2018
Bottom line: If you're a sports fan and you use the internet, you knew who Zion Williamson was long before he graduated from Spartanburg Day School in 2018.
The man-child's dunks were going viral by the time he won the first of three consecutive state championships and was a McDonald's All-American, but his true high school legacy lies elsewhere, with the video of 5-foot-6 Oakbrook Prep point guard Bryson Bishop coming into a game to guard the 6-foot-7 Williamson.
The best part? Williamson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft, also thinks it's funny.
3. Tiger Woods
High school: Western High School (Anaheim, California)
Graduation year: 1994
Bottom line: You have to give it up for the kids at Western High School. They knew enough to vote Tiger Woods "Most Likely to Succeed" in 1994.
Woods became the youngest player to ever play in a PGA event in 1992, when he was just 16 years old. Even before that, he was named The Los Angeles Times Golfer of the Year when he was a freshman and finished high school with three CIF Southern Section championships.
The thing to remember about Woods is that he also won three consecutive U.S. Junior Amateur Championships in that time and became the youngest winner of the U.S. Amateur in 1994.
2. LeBron James
High school: St. Vincent-St. Mary High School (Akron, Ohio)
Graduation year: 2003
Bottom line: LeBron James was the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft right out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. And he would've been the 2002 No. 1 pick as well, had it been allowed.
Few high school athletes have inspired the awe of James. He became familiar to basketball fans around the world when ESPN began televising his games during his junior season, which was around the same time he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the first time.
James' high school dominance recently inspired this classic tweet — "Imagine having to guard LeBron James after a long day of Algebra 2."
1. Nolan Ryan
High school: Alvin High School (Alvin, Texas)
Graduation year: 1965
Bottom line: We'll take Nolan Ryan as the most terrifying high school athlete of all time, thanks in large part to the excellent work of New York Mets scout Red Murff in the early 1960s.
Murff first began scouting Ryan when he was a sophomore in high school, in 1963, when he heard rumors there was a pitcher that some opponents refused to bat against for fear of their own personal safety.
In this case, the rumors were true. Ryan also had a tendency to run through catchers because he would inevitably break a bone in their hands with a pitch. Murff wrote Ryan had "the best arm I've seen in my life," and the Mets drafted him in 1965.
Ryan pitched 27 years in the majors and still owns the MLB career record with seven no-hitters. He's also a clear-cut selection for the No. 1 spot thanks to Murff, who left a written record dictating the absolute terror a young Ryan inspired in opponents.
Related: Greatest High School Athletes Ever