The top 100 high school athletes of all time: Olympic champion and soccer star highlight Nos. 41-50
The following is a list of the top 100 male athletes in the history of Michigan high school athletics. This list was created after hours of compiling facts and opinions. In analyzing data and comparing athletes of the 1920s to those of the 1990s and beyond we found difficulty in imagining how the athletes of the past would compare and compete against the present-day athlete. The adage, ‘bigger, stronger, faster’, must be applied but one cannot overlook the records and achievements of those in the 1930s, ‘40s and earlier.
It is the intent of State Champs to expose and honor the achievements of athletes, some of whom our readers might not be familiar with and to create conversation on just who were some of the best.
We have a few guidelines for athletes to be considered for this list. One is they had to attend high school, for at least one school year, in Michigan. They also had to compete in sports at the high school they attended. Playing for club teams and travel teams outside of the school are not within these guidelines.
Athletes like boxers Joe Louis and Chris Byrd, for example, did not, as far as our research could ascertain, compete in athletics, at least in boxing, their main sport, in high school.
Other athletes, like hockey standout Mike Modano, who did not play for his high school team, are excluded as well.
State Champs would like to thank Wikipedia, MHSAA historian Ron Pesch, Detroit area historian Bill Hoover and others, like Michigan sports writers Denny Grall and Bill Kahn, for their expertise. These, and others, provided so much of the information and opinions about these athletes that made this project possible.
It must be noted that much of the information obtained, especially on some of the Negro League players, was sketchy.
The following is a list of the athletes ranked 41 through 50. Next week we will release the athletes ranked 31-40.
We’re past the halfway point in what has been an enjoyable project for us and hopefully for you, our readers, as well.
- Alexi Lalas, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, Rutgers, Revolution, Galaxy (MLS), Olympics: One of the top soccer players in U.S. history, Lalas was named the 1987 Michigan High School Player of the Year by his senior year. In addition to playing soccer, he was a member and captain of his high school hockey team, which won the state championship. Lalas was rated for the Ontario Hockey League Midget draft in 1987, but was not selected. Lalas attended Rutgers where he played on the men’s soccer team from 1988 to 1991. During his four seasons at Rutgers he reached the NCAA Final Four in 1989 and the National Championship game in 1990. Lalas was named a third team All-America in 1989 and ‘90. In 1991, he was first All-America and was selected for both the Hermann Trophy and the Missouri Athletic Club Player of the Year award. As he did in high school, Lalas also played hockey in college, leading the team in scoring in 1989. Competed in the 1992 Olympics before, as a defender, he reached millions worldwide as the U.S. competed in the World Cup. After competing professionally, he was elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2006.
- Greg Jennings, Kalamazoo Central, Western Michigan, Packers, Vikings, Dolphins (NFL): Jennings was named all-state in three sports. He finished seventh in the voting for Mr. Basketball in 2001 and he won the long jump at the Division 1 track finals that same year with a jump of 21 feet, 9 inches. As a junior (2000) he was a member of the winning 400-meter relay team. Jennings started four years in football. He played receiver, running back, defensive back and linebacker. He was ranked No. 11 on the Detroit Free Press Fab 50. He played four seasons at WMU and finished with 238 receptions for 3,539 yards and 39 TDs. His senior year he had 98 catches and led the nation in catches per game (8.91). He had 1,259 yards with 14 touchdowns and was MAC Offensive Player of the Year. His 5,093 all-purpose yards is a WMU record, and ranks 8th in MAC history. Jennings became only the 11th player to gain over 1,000 yards in at least three seasons. The Packers selected him in the 2nd round (52nd overall) in the 2006 draft. He played 10 NFL seasons and was selected to the Pro Bowl twice. On September 24, 2006, he caught a 75-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre against the Lions. It was Favre’s 400th career TD pass. A week later Jennings caught a 16-yard TD pass from Favre that broke the all-time touchdown pass record Favre had shared with Dan Marino. Later that season Jennings caught the first TD pass by Aaron Rodgers. In Super Bowl XLV Jennings had four receptions for 64 yards and TDs in the Packers’ 31–25 victory over the Steelers. For his career Jennings had 571 receptions for 8,291 yards and 64 TDs.
- Charles Rogers, Saginaw, Michigan State, Lions (NFL): Rogers was a track and basketball star in addition to his excellence on the football field at Saginaw High. In 2000 he was named the Detroit News No. 1 Blue Chip player and All-America by USA Today. Rogers was the Class A champion in the 100- and 200-meter dash in 1998 and he was the 400-meter champion in ’99. In 2000 he won the 200 dash and anchored the winning 800 relay. His senior season he, along with Eugene Seals and Anthony Roberson, helped lead the Trojans to the Class A semifinals. Rogers had 31 points, eight rebounds and four assists in that game but Saginaw lost to Lansing Waverly, 78-75. Football was his first sport and Rogers was one of the country’s best receivers for two seasons at MSU. As a sophomore he had 67 receptions for 1,470 yards and 14 TDs. As a junior he had 68 receptions for 1,351 yards and 13 TDs. His 27 TD receptions is a school record. As a junior he won the Fred Biletnikoff Award and Paul Warfield Award as the best receiver in the country, and was a unanimous first-team All-America selection. He was selected by the Lions as the second player in the NFL and was a bust. Rogers had 36 receptions in three seasons with the Lions before injuries and drug problems ended his career.
- Jon Runyan, Flint Carman-Ainsworth, Michigan, Oilers/Titans, Eagles, Chargers (NFL): A three-sport athlete at Carman-Ainsworth, Runyan, a 6-7 enforcer inside, was selected to the Detroit News second team Class A All-State team in basketball in 1992 and was recruited by Michigan State to play basketball but he declined. In 1991 he won the Class A shot put title with a put of 57 feet, 6 inches. He won the title the next season as a senior and bettered his mark (59-5). Runyan was second in the discus that season. He placed sixth in the discus his sophomore season (1990) making him a three-time all-state selection. Let’s talk football. Runyan played four season at U-M at offensive tackle and was a first team All-Conference pick in 1995. The Oilers took Runyan in the fourth round of the 1996 Draft and became a starter in the sixth game of his rookie year. He would go on to start 192 times in the 207 NFL games he played. With the Titans (formerly the Oilers) he played in Super Bowl XXXIV. He was signed by the Eagles in 2000 in a six-year deal worth $30 million making him the highest paid offensive linemen in the NFL at that time. Two years later he made the Pro Bowl. In a 2006 article Runyan was named one of the dirtiest players in the league. He never denied it. A 2008 poll revealed that getting blocked by Runyan on a screen pass was one of the scariest things in the NFL. He started 190 consecutive games, the second longest streak among active NFL players in 2008. He has also started in all 18 playoff games his teams have appeared in during this streak. In 2010 Runyan was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives becoming the fourth NFL player to do so. He was re-elected in 2012. He did not seek re-election in 2014.
- Don Lund, Detroit Southeastern, Michigan, Dodgers, Browns, Tigers (MLB): At the time, Lund was the best all-around athlete seen in the Detroit City League in 10 years. All-State in football and basketball, Lund was known as a team player. He took few shots, scoring 78 points in 10 games, but excelled in setting up his teammates. When announcing its 1941 All-State basketball team, the Detroit Free Press wrote, “His cool aggressive floor play uncanny judgment under the backboards and fine sportsmanship made him one of the most valuable players in Michigan”. Lund lettered in baseball, basketball and football at U-M. He was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945 and that same year the Chicago Bears selected Lund in the first round of the NFL Draft. Lund chose baseball. He spent seven years in the majors. He spent his last year as a back-up for a teenaged rookie named Al Kaline (1954). Lund later served as U-M’s baseball coach and guided the Wolverines to the College World Series championship in 1962. He also coached for the Tigers and was director of their farm system from 1963-70. Lund was inducted into the U–M’s Hall of Honor in 1984 and was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 1987.
- Casey Rogowski, Detroit Catholic Central: A three-sport athlete, Rogowski excelled in all three earning first team all-state honors in baseball, football and wrestling. He was the Division 1 heavyweight champion in 1998 and ‘99. In 1997 and ’98, his junior and senior seasons, Rogowski was an important piece in the Shamrocks’ back-to-back Class AA championships. In Catholic Central’s 27-23 victory over Rockford in the ’98 final Rogowski, a linebacker and running back, had 40 yards rushing, one reception for nine yards and he led the team with 10 tackles. A first baseman, Rogowski was named Mr. Baseball by the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association in ’99. That season C.C. won the Division 1 title. He was selected in the 13th round by the White Sox in the ’99 Amateur Draft and played Minor League Baseball in the Chicago White Sox Organization and in Oakland Athletics Organization from 1999-2008. He was an Arizona League All-Star selection in ’99 and in ’05 Rogowski was a Southern League All-Star selection.
- Willis Ward, Detroit Northwestern, Michigan: A two-time all-state track athlete, Ward also excelled as a football player. At the 1929 Class A final, Ward placed first in the high jump (6 feet, 1¾ inches). The next season he took first in the high (16.0) and low hurdles (26.1). During his senior year at Northwestern Ward set the national record in the high jump (6-4) and was subsequently named Michigan High School Athlete of the Year. In 1932, Ward became the first African-American to play for the U-M varsity football team in 40 years. At U-M he became a collegiate champion in the 100-yard dash, the 440 dash, the high jump and the long jump. He was a three-time All-America in track. He played receiver, among other positions at U-M. A good friend of future President Gerald Ford, Ward and Ford (both of whom made all-state in football their senior seasons in high school) were the main characters in the documentary film, “Black and Blue: The Story of Gerald Ford, Willis Ward and the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech Game”. Southern schools abided by Jim Crow Laws then and did not play against black players so Willis did not play for U-M that afternoon. Although Ward did not compete in the Olympics he did compete against Jesse Owens when he ran for Ohio State, and finished ahead of Owens on more than one occasion.
- Todd Lyght, Flint Powers, Notre Dame, Rams, Lions (NFL): Born in the Marshall Islands, Lyght was all-state in football and track at Powers. He played two varsity football seasons, was a Dream Team selection his senior year and was named All-America. He had 34 receptions for 887 yards and 11 TDs as a senior, and had 10 interceptions (19 for his career). In track Lyght was an all-state hurdler in 1986 and ’87. His best finish was fourth in the 110-meter high hurdles. He was recruited as a receiver by coach Lou Holtz at Notre Dame but was switched to defensive back so as to get more playing time. ND had a player named Tim Brown who played receiver. “Looking back on my career, coach Holtz knew what he was doing,” Lyght told a Flint area reporter. No Notre Dame freshmen saw more playing time than Lyght in 1987. He was a two-time All-America at Notre Dame, played on the 1988 National Championship teams and had 11 career interceptions. Lyght was selected as the No. 5 overall pick by the Rams in the 1991 NFL Draft. He played 12 seasons in the NFL and was named Rookie of the Year in ’91. Light had 37 career interceptions and played on the Rams Super Bowl championship team in 2000. He currently is on staff at Notre Dame.
- Eddie Tolan, Detroit Cass Tech, Michigan, Olympics: Born in Colorado, Tolan moved to Detroit as a 15-year-old. He was the Class A champion in the 100-yard dash and the 220 three consecutive seasons (1925-27). His time in the 100 (9.8 seconds in ‘27) was a state record at the time. Also in ’27 he won the 100 and 220 at the National Interscholastic Championship at Soldier Field in Chicago. He said at the time that his favorite sport was football. He scored six TDs in one game as a 131-pound quarterback. He was recruited to play football at U-M but he never played. He ran track instead and there are different accounts of why this took place. George Jewett was the only African-American athlete to play at U-M at this time and that occurred in the 1890s. Some accounts have Tolan being convinced to run track instead. Others have it that he was injured and the obvious reason is the color of his skin. As a sophomore Tolan broke the Big Ten Conference record and tied the world record for the 100 dash with a time of 9.6. The next year he broke the world record with a time of 9.5 seconds. Seven weeks later he set the world record for the 100-meter dash (10.4). He broke it again the following year (10.3). At the 1932 Olympics Tolan won the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.3 seconds and then won the 200 (21.2). In 1958 Tolan was one of the first 18 athletes inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the U-M’s Athletic Hall of Honor in 1980. Only 17 individuals were inducted into the Hall before Tolan and he was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1982.
- John Smoltz, Lansing Catholic Central/Lansing Waverly, Braves, Red Sox, Cardinals (MLB): Born in Warren, Mich., Smoltz was all-state in basketball his senior year at Waverly and although baseball was his main sport he gave thoughts to playing both sports in college. He signed a baseball scholarship with Michigan State and had plans on competing on the basketball team under coach Jud Heathcote. Hours before he was to attend his first class at MSU Smoltz signed with the Tigers. Detroit had selected Smoltz in the 22nd round. In August of 1987 the Tigers traded Smoltz to Atlanta for Doyle Alexander. Smoltz pitched for 22 season in the majors and is the only pitcher to get 200 wins and 150 saves in a career. He holds the Braves record for career strikeouts (3,011), he was the 1992 National League Championship Series MVP, won a World Championship with the Braves in 1995 and won the Cy Young Award a year later. He had Tommy John surgery in 2000 and became a reliever. In 2002, his first full season as a closer, Smoltz set a National League record with 55 saves. His career ERA is 3.33, his career record is 213-155 with 154 saves. He was inducted into Cooperstown in 2015, the first year he was eligible.
Here are Nos. 51-100
- Kevin Grady, Jr., East Grand Rapids, Michigan (football)
- Courtney Hawkins, Flint Beecher, Michigan State, Buccaneers, Steelers (NFL)
- Rodney Culver, Detroit DePorres, Notre Dame, Colts, Chargers (NFL)
- Herb Washington, Flint Northern, Flint Central, Michigan State, Oakland A’s (MLB)
- Ed Budde, Detroit Denby, Michigan State, Chiefs (AFL/NFL)
- Drew Stanton, Farmington Hills Harrison, Michigan State, Lions, Jets, Colts, Cardinals (NFL)
- Charlie Gehringer, Fowlerville, Michigan, Tigers (MLB)
- Jim Abbott, Flint Central, Michigan, Angels, Yankees, White Sox, Brewers (MLB)
- Lynn Chandnois, Flint Central, Michigan State, Steelers (NFL)
- Stuart Schweigert, Saginaw Heritage, Purdue, Raiders, Redskins, Giants, Lions (NFL)
- D.J. LeMahieu, Birmingham Brother Rice, Louisiana State, Cubs, Rockies (MLB)
- Tim Thomas, Davison, Vermont, Bruins, Panthers, Stars (NHL), Olympics
- John Rowser, Detroit Eastern, Michigan, Packers, Steelers, Browns (NFL)
- Joe DeLamielleure, Center Line St. Clement, Michigan State, Bills, Browns (NFL)
- Sergio Perkovic, Birmingham Brother Rice, Notre Dame (lacrosse)
- Gabe Dean, Lowell, Cornell (wrestling)
- Bill Simpson, Royal Oak Shrine, Michigan State, Rams, Bills (NFL)
- Nick Perry, Detroit Mackenzie, Detroit King, Southern California, Packers (NFL)
- Draymond Green, Saginaw High, Michigan State, Golden State Warriors (NBA), Olympics
- Wayne Schwalbach, Escanaba, Central Michigan (football)
- Prescott Line, Oxford, Southern Methodist, Michigan State (football)
- William Gholston, Detroit Mumford, Detroit Southeastern, Michigan State, Buccaneers (NFL)
- Sammy Gee, Detroit Miller, Negro League Baseball, Globetrotters
- Darnell Dickerson, Detroit King, Pittsburgh (football)
- Jason Richardson, Saginaw Arthur Hill, Michigan State, Warriors, Hornets, Suns, Magic, 76ers (NBA)
- Dan Majerle, Traverse City High, Central Michigan, Suns, Cavaliers, Heat (NBA)
- David Bowens, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Michigan/Western Illinois, Packers, Bills, Redskins, Dolphins, Jets, Browns (NFL)
- Brent Metcalf, Davison, Iowa (wrestling)
- Don Coleman, Flint Central, Michigan State, Cardinals (NFL)
- Tony Dungy, Jackson Parkside, Minnesota, Steelers, 49ers (NFL)
- Chet Walker, Benton Harbor, Bulls (NBA)
- Donovan Peoples-Jones, Detroit Cass Tech, Michigan (football)
- Clay Youngquist, Battle Creek Lakeview, Texas (swimming)
- Joe Barksdale, Detroit Cass Tech, Louisiana State, Raiders, Rams, Chargers (NFL)
- George “The Gipper” Gipp, Calumet High, Notre Dame (football)
- Curtis Jones, Detroit Northwestern, North Idaho Junior College (basketball)
- Walt Owens, Detroit Northwestern., Western Michigan (track), Negro League Baseball, Globetrotters
- Andy Greene, Trenton, Miami (OH), Devils, (NHL)
- Rudy Tomjanovich, Hamtramck, Michigan, Rockets (NBA)
- Charlie Justice, Hamtramck/Detroit Northern, Negro League Baseball, Globetrotters
- George Goeddeke, Detroit St. David, Notre Dame, Broncos (AFL/NFL)
- "Jumpin’ Johnny" Kline, Detroit Northwestern/Detroit Northeastern, Wayne State, Globetrotters (track, basketball)
- Earl Brown, Jr., Benton Harbor, Notre Dame (basketball, football)
- Harry Kipke, Lansing Central, Michigan (basketball)
- Gary Hoogeboom, Grand Rapids Northview, Central Michigan, Cowboys (NFL)
- Steve Beck, Southeastern, Arizona State (basketball)
- Wilbert "Wilbur" King, Detroit Pershing, Negro League Baseball, Globetrotters
- Steve Fraser, Hazel Park, Michigan, (Olympic wrestling)
- Phil Regan, Wayland Union, Western Michigan, Tigers, Dodgers, Cubs (MLB)
- Mike Kadish, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Notre Dame, Dolphins, Bills (NFL)