Super Bowl Rosters Littered With Ex-Cali HS Stars

When James Hodgins was a junior at Oak Grove High of San Jose, he wrote an article that appeared in Student Sports Magazine about how football changed his life. Before going to Oak Grove, Hodgins was an admitted troublemaker. He was arrested and convicted on two counts of grand theft auto and served six months at the Harold Holden Boys Ranch.

"I continued the trend toward being a gangster when I was at the ranch and was worse off at my release than when I was first sentenced," Hodgins wrote in 1994 for the magazine.


After another three-month stint at the boys ranch for assault, Hodgins then began a long road toward success.


"The first step I took was in finding the Lord," he wrote. "I knew I had a good chance with God on my side."


At Oak Grove in the fall of 1992, Hodgins, then a sophomore, wasn't going to play sports until he noticed the attention other football players at the school received. He approached then head coach Lee Evans and began a strength training program. Hodgins earned a starting role for the Eagles at runningback and linebacker in the 1993 and 1994 seasons. He wasn't heavily recruited by colleges, but coaches at nearby San Jose State saw something they liked and gave him a scholarship.


Hodgins is now preparing to play for the St. Louis Rams against the New England Patriots in his second Super Bowl. He signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 1999 and has done well on special teams. He's also now seeing more time as a fullback. Hodgins caught a touchdown pass from Kurt Warner in the regular season game between the Rams and the Patriots and caught a touchdown pass from Warner in the NFC divisional playoff victory over the Chicago Bears.


All this from a player whose life could have turned out completely different.


"If there is one point I'd like to make for kids living the way I used to, it would be that anyone can get into trouble, but it takes a special person with a lot of heart to decide if he or she wants to be someone more in life," Hodgins wrote. "You have to be willing to do everything it takes to make it happen."


Hodgins will be making it happen in the Super Bowl along with 15 others who once played high school football in California. No other state has a higher total. This year's review of where Super Bowl players went to high school also showed Texas with a list of 11 former players plus Ohio with 10, Florida and Virginia with six and Louisiana, Washington and North Carolina with five.


Three separate high schools from across the nation have two alumni in this year's game and one of the three is California's Berkeley High. Berkeley's duo is defensive back Je'Rod Cherry of the Patriots and defensive lineman Chidi Ahanotou of the Rams.


If the Rams win, it will mark the 15th time in the last 26 years that the head coach of the winning Super Bowl team is from a California high school. John Madden (Jefferson, Daly City) is first on the list for leading the Oakland Raiders past the Minnesota Vikings in 1977. Tom Flores (Sanger) won for the Raiders in 1981 and 1984. Bill Walsh (Hayward) won for San Francisco in 1982 and 1985. Joe Gibbs (Santa Fe, Santa Fe Springs) won for Washington in 1983, 1988 and 1992. George Seifert (Poly, San Francisco) won for San Francisco in 1990 and 1995. Mike Holmgren (Lincoln, San Francisco) won for Green Bay in 1997. Dick Vermeil (Calistoga) won for the Rams in 2000 and Brian Billick (Redlands) won for Baltimore last season. Head coach Mike Martz of the Rams is from Madison High of San Diego. There's always a lot of debate about which state produces the best players, but there doesn't seem to be much of an argument about which state produces the best coaches.


If the Patriots win and quarterback Tom Brady is named MVP, he wouldn't be the first from Serra High of San Mateo, Calif. In 1976, Lynn Swann, also from Serra, was MVP for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl X. Another famous Serra High grad is baseball slugger Barry Bonds. Brady didn't set records as a quarterback at Serra, but his sister, Maureen, set several state records as a softball pitcher at Hillsdale High of San Mateo.


Another California prep nugget from the Super Bowl involves offensive tackle Steve Neal of the Patriots. He once pinned New Orleans running back Ricky Williams when the two wrestled in high school. Neal attended San Diego High and Williams went to nearby Patrick Henry High. Neal finished fourth in the 189-pound weight class at the California state wrestling championships, then went on to become a dominant collegian at Cal State Bakersfield. He won two NCAA Division I titles and only began playing football again in recent years.

Rounding out the list of ex-California preps in this year's Super Bowl are Teddy Bruschi LB (Roseville); Mark Fields LB (Washington, Los Angeles); Az Hakim WR (Fairfax, Los Angeles); Charles Johnson WR (Cajon, San Bernardino); Ted Johnson LB (Carlsbad); Brandon Manumaluena TE (Narbonne, Harbor City); Jamie Martin QB (Arroyo Grande); Willie McGinest DE (Poly, Long Beach); Lonie Paxton C (Centennial, Corona); J.R. Redmond RB (Carson); Justin Watson RB (Marshall Fundamental, Pasadena).

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