Greatest High School Team?

For a handful of Pittsburgh Steelers who made their claim in a locker-room debate last month, the choices boil down to two Florida schools with impressive credentials.

PITTSBURGH -- Before he was released last week, Brandon Lindsey was asked if being a Quip – an Aliquippa High School Quip – opened the door for him to land with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first place.

"I don't know if it got me in the door," said the rookie. "But it doesn't hurt that everybody knows about Aliquippa."

Everybody does know about Aliquippa.

And everybody knows about another Pittsburgh suburban powerhouse, Woodland Hills.

While Aliquippa has more NFL Hall of Famers and first-round picks, Woodland Hills has more NFL players, period.

So, who would win?

"We'd beat Aliquippa," said Steelers safety Ryan Mundy of Woodland Hills. "Lindsey might not agree, but there's no doubt in my mind."

Lindsey isn't around to defend the Quips' honor anymore. But it's a minor argument compared to the argument between proud Floridians in the Steelers' locker room.

In one corner is Sean Spence. The Steelers' third-round pick played at Northwestern High in Miami – known in Pittsburgh for prepping former Panthers star Antonio Bryant.

As a junior in 2006, Spence made 197 tackles to lead Northwestern to a 15-0 record and the 6-A state championship. As a senior, his tackles total dipped to 123 but his Bulls won the mythical USA Today national championship.

In the other corner are Maurkice Pouncey and rookie fourth-round pick Chris Rainey. They played at Lakeland High in Tampa and won 45 consecutive games, three consecutive Florida 5-A state championships (2004-06), and two consecutive USA Today national championships.

Even though Northwestern won at the higher classification, the Dreadnaughts in the Steelers' locker room give a big edge to their Lakeland team.

"We would've blown them out," said Rainey.

"We were the best team ever," said Pouncey. "No other high school team can be talked about in the years we won those three state championships."

The schools did not play each other during the time these Steelers played ball in Florida. And does Pouncey even know about Northwestern and its tradition?

"We heard about them, but they know us more," Pouncey said. "Ask Sean Spence who would've won. We tell him all the time, all the guys. And that little running back they had – him and Rainey were the top two running backs in high school – well, we always tell Spence ‘We woulda smashed y'all.'"

Rainey and Northwestern running back Antwain Easterling were the two best backs in the state in 2006 and 2007.

Easterling rushed for 2,831 yards rushing and 33 TDs as senior in 2006, but a sex charge days before the state title game scared off recruiters and he ended up at Southern Miss. (Coaches, teachers and administrators were fired for trying to cover up the offense until after the Florida State title game, and Easterling continues to be plagued by legal trouble.)

Rainey, on the other hand, moved in with the Pouncey twins, stayed out of trouble, and rushed for 2,478 yards and 32 touchdowns his senior year. He followed the Pounceys to Florida and Maurkice to Pittsburgh.

"Rainey was our key guy," Pouncey said. "He did everything, especially since we liked to run the ball a lot. Our junior year we had a good quarterback. He went to Western Illinois. He was really good. We had a passing attack that year. Other than that it was mainly Rainey and Jamar Taylor. He was another running back. He and Rainey were the show."

The Dreadnaughts also had former Gator and current Tampa Bay Buc safety Ahmad Black captaining their deep patrol. And, of course, they had a bit of an offensive line.

"Oh, we were decent," Pouncey said with a laugh. "I played left guard and my brother [Mike] played left tackle. Rainey ran behind us about 80 percent of the time."

"Thirteen lead draw was my favorite play," said Rainey. "I scored probably 90 percent of the time on that play. The fullback would go the opposite way and I'd cut off his block and then, hello, I'm right behind the Pounceys."

Could Rainey have run against Northwestern? Spence played one outside linebacker spot and Tampa Bay's second-round pick, Lavonte David, played the other. The middle linebacker was Quavon Taylor, a two-time all-stater who recently transferred from South Florida to Tuskegee.

"You'll be hearing from him soon," Spence said.

Did anyone score against Spence's Northwestern teams? "My junior year we had seven straight shutouts. Shutouts. Zero points. In a row," Spence said. "My senior year we were kind of young in the secondary so guys were trying to air it out on us, but in the running game they got nothing."

Spence and David were two of four Northwestern players drafted by the NFL last April, a high for all high schools this year. The others were Tommy Streeter and Brandon Washington, both drafted in the sixth round. Five other Northwestern teammates who were signed to training-camp rosters after the draft: Jacory Harris, Marcus Forston, Aldarius Johnson, Terrell Killing and Brandon Drayton.

That adds up to nine players from the same high school team who will be in NFL training camps later this month.

"I think Maurkice Pouncey is hallucinating," Spence said. "If you go back and watch the tape of both of our high schools, you will clearly see that we were the better team."

Spence was about as hot as Pouncey was cool during the debate, and it went back and forth until Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown jumped in. He grew up in Miami, went to Miami Northern, and "we beat Northwestern," he boasted.

"We played against both of them," Brown said. "I played against Pouncey in high school."

So, who was better?

"Northwestern," Brown said without any remorse for his Miami bias. "But Pouncey and them, man, they killed us."


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