Athletes Whose Careers Peaked in High School
LeBron James, Bryce Harper and Kyler Murray are just a few of the athletes who became stars in high school and only built upon their stardom afterward. They all went on to incredible professional careers and are among the very best in their respective sports. But not every high school phenom maintains success after leaving high school. Some could have some success in college and then drop off while others may not even keep their level of play in the college ranks.
This is an exploration into some of those athletes who, for one reason or another, peaked in high school. It’s a tough pill to swallow for your athletic career to reach its apex when you’re just a teenager, but various factors go into the amount of success one achieves. That’s not just for athletes and sports but for people in all walks of life. Some of these athletes were able to build successful second careers once their playing days ended, but they all are still viewed as busts. Here are 30 high school athlete phenoms who flopped.
30. Eddy Curry
High school: Thornwood High School (South Holland, Illinois)
Pro career: 11 seasons (2001-09, 2012)
Bottom Line: Eddy Curry
If you only look at Curry’s numbers, you would think he had a serviceable NBA career. But for someone who was nicknamed Baby Shaq in high school and was the No. 4 overall draft pick, people expected so much more. Curry was a man playing amongst boys in high school, as he was 7-feet tall and nearly 300 pounds as a teenager.
He was the consensus No. 1 overall player in his high school class after averaging 22 points, nine rebounds and six blocks per game as a senior. But weight problems throughout his NBA career never allowed him to reach his full potential, and he was out of the league before 30 years old.
29. Drew Henson
Sports: Baseball, football
High school: Brighton High School (Brighton, Michigan)
Pro career: MLB: 2 seasons (2002-03), NFL: 2 seasons (2004, 2008)
Bottom Line: Drew Henson
How many people can say they played for the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees? Henson can, although he didn’t have much success with either iconic franchise. Henson was all-everything in high school. After all, he was a three-way star in football alone, as the quarterback, defensive back and punter. Then, on the diamond, he made All-State four times and set the all-time high school mark for home runs (70).
However, things went downhill for Henson after high school, with the highlight of his college career being sitting behind Tom Brady at Michigan. He flamed out in both football and baseball, but you can never take away those Cowboys and Yankees jerseys he has hanging up somewhere.
28. Josh Booty
Sports: Baseball, football
High school: Evangel Christian Academy (Shreveport, Louisiana)
Pro career: MLB: 3 seasons (1996-98); NFL: DNP
Bottom Line: Josh Booty
Booty's high school career was undoubtedly boosted by his father's prominence within the school. Josh's father, Johnny, was both the athletic director of his son's high school while also being one of the founders of the school. Thus, son had it made at Evangel where he became the first high school player in history to throw for more than 10,000 yards. He was also a USA Today All-American shortstop, and baseball was his initial sport after high school.
However, Booty flamed out during four years in the minors and then shifted his focus back to football. He joined LSU's football team as a 24-year-old freshman, had enough success to get drafted in the sixth round but never had the opportunity to play in an NFL game.
27. Todd Van Poppel
High school: Martin High School (Arlington, Texas)
Pro career: 11 seasons (1991, 1993-96, 1998, 2000-04)
Bottom Line: Todd Van Poppel
Van Poppel was one of the top prospects in the nation thanks to a scintillating senior season at Martin High. Van Poppel posted a 0.97 ERA and 170 strikeouts, and his fastball was drawing comparisons to Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens as an 18-year-old.
Unfortunately, a fastball was all Van Poppel had in his pitching repertoire, and he was exposed once he reached the majors. He went from being the No. 14 pick in the MLB Draft to a career journeyman who played for six teams and had an ERA below 5.36 for just one of them.
26. Greg Paulus
Sports: Basketball, football
High school: Christian Brothers Academy (DeWitt, New York)
Pro career: DNP
Bottom Line: Greg Paulus
Many remember Paulus as a member of Duke’s basketball team, but he was quite the football player as well. In addition to being New York’s Mr. Basketball, Paulus was named Gatorade’s National Football Player of the Year as a senior. His college career started on the hardwood at Duke where he played for four years under Coach K.
Then, with an additional year of eligibility, he transferred to Syracuse and spent one year as the team’s starting QB. The stops in Durham and Syracuse were underwhelming considering Paulus’ high school success, and he didn’t go pro in either sport, opting instead to become a basketball coach.
25. Ronald Curry
Sports: Football, basketball
High school: Hampton High School (Hampton, Virginia)
Pro career: NFL: 7 seasons (2002-08)
Bottom Line: Ronald Curry
Imagine being such a great athlete that someone like Michael Vick has to take a backseat to you. That was the case in Virginia in the late 1990s, as Vick and Ronald Curry were in the same district, and Curry was viewed as the better player. He won three state titles in football as the quarterback/defensive back/kick returner as he threw for 90 TDs, rushed for 74 TDs and returned 22 TDs. On the hardwood, Curry was named MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game and also won a Slam Dunk contest.
While Curry was a two-sport star at UNC, he didn’t reach the heights he did in high school, and Vick — who went to conference rival Virginia Tech — surpassed him in recognition. Curry did manage to carve out a seven-year NFL career as a receiver and is now a coach with the New Orleans Saints.
24. Noel Jenke
Sports: Football, baseball, hockey, basketball
High school: Owatonna High School (Owatonna, Minnesota)
Pro career: NFL: 4 seasons (1971-74)
Bottom Line: Noel Jenke
Jenke played three sports at Owatonna High — football, baseball, basketball — and he also played hockey for a local team. He was the team captain of each of his three school sports while winning multiple state championships for the hockey team. In college, Jenke dropped basketball but still became the first person in Minnesota Golden Gopher history to letter in three sports. He was also drafted by pro teams in those three sports, as Jenke was taken by the Minnesota Vikings, Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Fighting Saints of the WHA.
His initial professional sport was baseball, but he could never elevate higher than AAA. Thus, after three years, he decided to give football a shot and joined the Vikings. As a linebacker, he was nothing more than a backup and never started a game during his four years in the league.
23. Dylan Bundy
High school: Owasso High School (Owasso, Oklahoma)
Pro career: 8 seasons (2012, 2016-22)
Bottom Line: Dylan Bundy
The only player to win the Gatorade State player of the year award in any sport three times (2009-11), Bundy was nearly unhittable in high school. He had a 0.25 ERA as a senior, allowing only two runs in 71 innings pitched. As a senior, he also became the first baseball player to win the Gatorade Athlete of the Year award, as it had previously only gone to football and basketball players.
Bundy was then drafted fourth overall out of high school but couldn’t find anywhere near the success he had as a prep athlete. He made his MLB debut as a 19-year-old in 2012 but was then sent back down to the minors and wouldn’t be called up for another four years. His best season came in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but he followed that up with the worst year of his career in 2021.
22. Dorial Green-Beckham
High school: Hillcrest High School (Springfield, Missouri)
Pro career: 2 seasons (2015-16)
Bottom Line: Dorial Green-Beckham
The Hall Trophy is high school’s equivalent to the Heisman Trophy and is awarded to the most outstanding prep player in the country. In 2011, Green-Beckham became the first wide receiver to ever claim the Hall Trophy after a stellar career in which he became the nation’s all-time leader in high school receiving yards. He decided to stay home with his college choice and go to Missouri, but that’s where things started going downhill for DGB.
He was dismissed from Missouri due to legal issues, transferred to Oklahoma but never played a down for them. He still wound up a second-round NFL draft pick, but his legal issues didn’t stop, and Green-Beckham’s pro career fizzled as his number of known arrests (five) nearly equaled his number of NFL touchdowns (six).
21. Jimmy Clausen
High school: Oaks Christian School (Westlake Village, California)
Pro career: 6 seasons (2010-15)
Bottom Line: Jimmy Clausen
Clausen had all of the tools to look like a star in high school. First, he was two years older than his class as a 19-year-old senior. Second, he had great teammates, as nine other players on his team went on to play in Division I. And third, his private high school had weak competition, which allowed Clausen to inflate his stats.
The result: He went a perfect 42-0 in high school, had an underwhelming career at Notre Dame and then was an NFL bust who threw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns.
20. Brian Lawton
High school: Mount Saint Charles Academy (Woonsocket, Rhode Island)
Pro career: 9 seasons (1983-92)
Bottom Line: Brian Lawton
Mount Saint Charles Academy is known for its hockey program, having won 44 state titles. Lawton was a part of that success, winning two state championships that paved the way for him to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 1983 NHL Draft. That made him the first U.S.-born player to ever be taken first overall in the draft and the only U.S. high school player to go first overall.
He was moderately successful during his career, but a team is expecting more than moderate when it takes you first overall. Lawton bounced around from team to team and city to city, playing for six different franchises in nine seasons.
19. Jeremy Tyler
High school: San Diego High School (San Diego, California)
Pro career: 3 seasons (2011-14)
Bottom Line: Jeremy Tyler
As a high school sophomore, Tyler led his team to its first state championship in 33 years. As a high school junior, Tyler averaged 28.7 points for the San Diego Cavers. And as a high school senior … well, Tyler never had a senior year because he bypassed that — and subsequently college — to play professionally overseas.
He became the first U.S.-born player to leave high school early to play professionally, and he eventually made his way to the NBA after two years in foreign leagues. But Tyler had nowhere near the success in the NBA as he had in high school, logging only 104 NBA games before heading back overseas.
18. Matt Barkley
High school: Mater Dei High School (Santa Ana, California)
Pro career: 11 seasons (2013-present)
Bottom Line: Matt Barkley
Back in 2009 and before Barkley had even played a single college football game, draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. proclaimed that the then-high school senior would be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. That came after Barkley became maybe the first high school QB ever to call his own plays during games and became the first non-senior to be named the Gatorade National Player of the Year.
But high school would be the peak of Barkley’s career, as he underwhelmed so much at USC that he elected to not enter the 2012 draft and stay in school another year. Barkley was drafted in 2013, but he was only the 98th overall selection. He's been a journeyman backup QB during his NFL career and has played for as many teams (seven) as he has touchdowns thrown.
17. Brien Taylor
High school: East Carteret High School (Beaufort, North Carolina)
Pro career: DNP
Bottom Line: Brien Taylor
"Brien Taylor, still to this day, is the best high school pitcher I've seen in my life." – Super MLB agent Scott Boras in 2006
Taylor was also the best high school pitcher the Yankees had ever seen, as they drafted him first overall in 1991. That came after he touched 99 miles per hour on the radar gun while striking out 213 batters in 88 innings in high school. Taylor became just the second high schooler to be drafted first overall, and his pro career started out in the minors where he posted a 3.02 over two seasons.
Then, he suffered a bizarre injury during a fistfight, which led to surgery and Taylor missing the entire 1994 season. He wasn’t close to the same pitcher when he returned, as he posted an unsightly 11.24 ERA over parts of five seasons in the minors afterward. The best high school pitcher many had ever seen never even threw a single inning in the majors.
16. Chad Hutchinson
Sports: Baseball, football
High school: Torrey Pines High School (San Diego, California)
Pro career: MLB: 1 season (2001), NFL: 3 seasons (2002-04)
Bottom Line: Chad Hutchinson
A two-sport star in high school, Hutchinson was the Gatorade National Player of the Year in baseball and the starting quarterback for the football team. On the diamond, he posted an 11-0 record and 1.20 ERA, while on the gridiron, he threw for eight touchdowns in a run-heavy offense. His prowess in both sports led to him being a dual-sport star at Stanford and then playing both professionally.
But while he simply “played” both, he excelled at neither at the highest level. Hutchinson initially tried only baseball as a pro but toiled in the minors for four seasons, minus a brief callup. He then switched to football in 2002 but posted just a 3-11 record in his career.
15. Abby Waner
High school: ThunderRidge High School (Highlands Ranch, Colorado)
Pro career: DNP
Bottom Line: Abby Waner
How does a 92-8 high school record sound? That's what Waner's team posted as she led them to three state titles while also being named the Gatorade National Player of the Year. Waner also broke Colorado's single-game scoring mark by dropping 61 points in her final high school game, but that's as good as things would get for her.
While she was successful at Duke, she didn't meet the expectations she set for herself in high school, and her pro career would be even more of a disappointment. Despite being a second-round WNBA pick, Waner couldn't survive the final preseason cuts and never played in the league.
14. Johnathan Gray
High school: Aledo High School (Aledo, Texas)
Pro career: DNP
Bottom Line: Johnathan Gray
The Mr. Football USA award is presented to the top high school player in the country. Only one person has won two of those awards, and his name is Johnathan Gray. He broke the all-time high school single-season touchdown mark of 57 as a junior on the way to his first Mr. Football USA. Then, he went back-to-back as a senior when he broke the all-time high school career touchdown mark of 204.
Gray then went to nearby Texas but was plagued by injuries during his four years there. He tore both his Achilles' tendons and wasn’t even drafted by an NFL team. All he has are some NFL tryouts and playing for a local indoor football league as his claims to a professional career.
13. David Clyde
High school: Westchester High School (Houston, Texas)
Pro career: 5 seasons (1973-75, 1978-79)
Bottom Line: David Clyde
High school athletics didn’t get much attention in the 1970s, but Clyde’s unbelievable numbers made him an anomaly. Some scouts billed him as the next Sandy Koufax after Clyde went 18-0 with a 0.18 ERA and threw five no-hitters during his high school career. As a result, he became the first-ever high school player to be the No. 1 overall pick at the 1973 MLB Draft.
With Clyde being a Texas kid and being drafted by the Rangers, he was fast-tracked to the majors to help sell tickets. He made his MLB debut just 20 days after his final high school game, and although he won, that was just about as good as Clyde’s MLB career got. He soon developed arm problems and fizzled out, playing his last game at just 24 years old.
12. Rick Mount
High school: Lebanon Senior High School (Lebanon, Indiana)
Pro career: ABA: 5 seasons (1970-75)
Bottom Line: Rick Mount
Who was the first high school athlete to ever appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated? Rick Mount.
Mount got the honor thanks to averaging over 33 PPG during his final two years in high school in an amateur basketball-crazed state like Indiana. He won Indiana's Mr. Basketball in 1966, a decade after Oscar Robertson won the award, and Mount was an All-American at Purdue.
However, Mount wasn't able to translate his game to the pros even though he played in the lesser-talented ABA instead of the NBA. He was the No. 1 overall (ABA) pick by the Indiana Pacers in 1970 but never averaged more than 14.9 PPG in a full season.
11. Bruce Hardy
High school: Bingham High School (South Jordan, Utah)
Pro career: 12 seasons (1978-89)
Bottom Line: Bruce Hardy
Success for Hardy came in pairs in high school, as he was two-time All-State in football, the two-time player of the year in basketball and won two state championships in baseball. As a high school senior, he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated under the headline of “Best Schoolboy Athlete.”
He focused on just football for his professional career and was serviceable as a part-time starting tight end for a dozen years. But it was practically impossible for Hardy to match the exploits in his pro career with what he accomplished as an amateur.
10. Mickey McCarty
Sports: Football, baseball, basketball
High school: Pasadena High School (Pasadena, Texas)
Pro career: 1 season (1969)
Bottom Line: Mickey McCarty
Described as “an Adonis of an athlete,” McCarty dominated the high school scene in the Houston suburb of Pasadena as he was a three-sport athlete. His 6-foot-7, 240-pound frame dominated on the gridiron, diamond and hardwood, and as a result, he was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Bulls.
McCarty would play two sports at TCU — basketball and baseball — but, ironically, it was football that he went pro in. After not playing college football, McCarty had a cup of coffee with the Chiefs, playing just three games but also winning a Super Bowl ring with the team.
9. Eddie Pearce
High school: C. Leon King High School (Tampa, Florida)
Pro career: 23 seasons (1972-95)
Bottom Line: Eddie Pearce
By the time Pearce was 12, he was considered a prodigy and was featured in Professional Golfer Magazine. By 17, Pearce had won his age division in the Futures Masters tournament seven straight years and seemed destined to become an all-time great.
But while Pearce was equally successful at Wake Forest, perhaps the pressure of being labeled the “next Jack Nicklaus” finally got to him. He turned professional at 20 years old but never won a single PGA tournament. He finished runner-up several times but never claimed a top-10 finish at a major tournament.
8. Basil Shabazz
Sports: Football, basketball, baseball, track
High school: Pine Bluff High School (Pine Bluff, Arkansas)
Pro career: DNP
Bottom Line: Basil Shabazz
The person who gets four half-court shots to win $1 million has a better chance than the person who gets one such shot. With that, the athlete who excels at four high school sports has a better chance at making it as a pro than a person who only excels at one sport. But Shabazz went 0-for-4 in his pro career despite being a standout four-sport athlete.
He was one of the top football recruits in the nation, was All-State in basketball, set a state record in the 200m in track and was so good defensively in baseball that he bumped future nine-time Gold Glove winner, Torii Hunter, out of center field. But Pine Bluff High was the peak of Shabazz’s athletic career. While he played both minor league baseball and college football, he never reached the pros.
7. Sebastian Telfair
High school: Abraham Lincoln High School (Brooklyn, New York)
Pro career: 10 seasons (2004-14)
Bottom Line: Sebastian Telfair
Prior to Telfair making the leap from high school to the NBA, only post players and tall wings had made such a jump. At 6-feet tall, Telfair became the shortest player by a good 6 inches to get drafted straight out of high school. His senior year at Lincoln High was documented in the film "Through the Fire," in which Telfair wrestles with the decision of either going to Louisville or going to the NBA.
It’s debatable if he made the right decision, as while he carved out a 10-year career as a journeyman, Telfair never reached anywhere near the exploits many thought he would reach. He never averaged 10 points per game in a season, and his 564 games played without a postseason appearance are the fifth-most in NBA history.
6. Toe Nash
High school: None
Pro career: DNP
Bottom Line: Toe Nash
Nash wasn’t a high school phenom because he never attended high school, dropping out in eighth grade. But when he was high school age, an MLB scout saw him playing in a semi-pro league where Nash allegedly hit 400-foot home runs from both sides of the plate while also throwing 93 mph from the mound. The scout eventually arranged for the Tampa Bay Rays to sign him to a contract, and he joined the Rays’ minor league system.
But Nash’s lack of formal education hurt him, as he was illiterate and struggled to function in society. He was arrested multiple times, including for felony robbery and statutory rape. His professional baseball career consisted of 47 games in rookie ball, where he hit .240 with eight home runs.
5. Ken Hall
High school: Sugar Land High School (Sugar Land, Texas)
Pro career: 3 seasons (1959-61)
Bottom Line: Ken Hall
For 59 years, Ken Hall was high school's all-time leading rusher until Derrick Henry toppled him in 2012. For 45 years, Ken Hall was high school's all-time leader in total offense until J.R. House broke that record in 1998. And for 33 years, Ken Hall was high school's all-time leader in 100-yard games until Emmitt Smith broke that record in 1986.
Sounds like Mr. Ken Hall was a pretty good high school football player. Unfortunately, high school ball was the only thing he excelled at, as he dropped out of college just days after walking on campus. He spent a few years in the CFL, AFL and NFL but made no discernible impact in any of them.
4. Kwame Brown
High school: Glynn Academy (Brunswick, Georgia)
Pro career: 12 seasons (2001-13)
Bottom Line: Kwame Brown
Brown wasn’t just the first No. 1 overall pick to be drafted straight out of high school. And he wasn’t just drafted ahead of Pau Gasol, Joe Johnson and a host of others. Kwame Brown was also handpicked by Michael Jordan to help restore the Wizards franchise to relevancy.
Jordan was the Wizards’ team president at the time and drafted Brown after he was named Mr. Georgia Basketball in high school. But Brown could never find his footing in the NBA, played for seven different teams as a journeyman and is considered one of the biggest busts in NBA history.
3. Marcus Dupree
High school: Philadelphia High School (Philadelphia, Mississippi)
Pro career: 2 seasons (1990-91)
Bottom Line: Marcus Dupree
Dupree was the subject of a 30 for 30 titled "The Best That Never Was," and that accurately sums up his career. He was a man amongst boys in a tiny Mississippi town and broke Herschel Walker’s then-high school record for touchdowns. When he arrived on campus at the University of Oklahoma, coach Barry Switzer declared that Dupree was physically ready to play in the NFL as a freshman. But Dupree’s lackadaisical work ethic both infuriated his coaches and led to numerous injuries during his time in Norman and beyond.
He spent two years in college and then two years in the USFL before the league folded. He then was out of football for five years before getting a shot in the NFL where he spent two years as a backup before retiring.
2. Freddy Adu
High school: The Heights School (Potomac, Maryland)
Pro career: 17 seasons (2004-21)
Bottom Line: Freddy Adu
Poor Freddy Adu was expected to be the next Pele, the savior of American soccer and the face of the sport, all at 14 years old. That was the age he made his MLS debut and was the youngest person to ever sign a pro contract in an American team sport. The expectations would have been too much for anyone but especially for someone who was born in a foreign country (Ghana) and hadn’t even finished high school yet. Adu not only failed to live up to his prep career, but he wasn’t even considered an average MLS player.
He bounced around from team to team, league to league and country to country, playing for at least 15 different leagues. It seems as though his career came to an end in 2021 when a third-tier Swedish team terminated his contract after deeming him not physically or mentally able to play.
1. Todd Marinovich
High school: Capistrano Valley High School (Mission Viejo, California)
Pro career: 2 seasons (1991-92)
Bottom Line: Todd Marinovich
Marinovich was bred to be a superstar quarterback by his father, Marv, who played in the 1963 Rose Bowl. Marv trained Todd from his youth to his teens, and it paid off as far as his high school pursuits. In 1984, he became the first freshman to start a high school varsity game in Orange County, California, and would later set the all-time national high school passing yardage mark.
But having an abnormal childhood led to numerous problems for Marinovich starting in college. He followed in his father’s footsteps and went to USC but was arrested for cocaine possession while still an undergrad. He managed to be a first-round NFL Draft pick but flamed out, making just eight starts over his career while having roughly twice as many arrests.