When football fans think of high school hotbeds for producing college and NFL talent, the power schools of Texas, Florida, California, Ohio and Pennsylvania are the ones that come immediately to mind.
But, Mary D. Bradford High School in Kenosha, Wisc.?
Not so much.
Kenosha has a population of less than 100,000 and has produced some famous residents, from director Orson Welles to 1954 Heisman Trophy winner Alan Ameche, legendary movie actor Don Ameche and Al Molinaro, a TV character actor best known for his roles on The Odd Couple and Happy Days.
Bradford High may not jump out at football fans as a football factory, but two of its elite alumni are going to meet against one another for the first time – Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes and San Diego running back Melvin Gordon. Waynes was taken with the 11th pick of the 2015 draft by the Vikings and Gordon landed four picks later to San Diego.
The two have been friends since their days at Bradford when both were stars on the football and track teams. Back in those days, both of them had aspirations to play in the NFL and Sunday will be their first opportunity to line up on opposite sides of the ball as key rookie contributors – a prospect both are looking forward to.
“It’ll be great,” Waynes said. “It was something we always dreamed about that started from high school to college and now here.”
Technically, they’ve met twice and played against each other once, but this will be the first time they’ve met as valued players for their respective teams.
“We played each other in college twice,” Waynes said. “We were both on special teams on our freshman year (in the first meeting). The other time was in the Big Ten Championship Game again in our freshman year, but he was injured at the time. We haven’t really gone up against each other since high school.”
Their mutual admiration has only grown over the years. Gordon remained in his home state to play for the Wisconsin Badgers, while Waynes got lured away to play with the Michigan State Spartans. When the Big Ten split into two divisions, Wisconsin and MSU quit playing each other every season, but both of them kept track of the progress the other was making and their mutual respect just grew.
Waynes was watching when Gordon set the single-game rushing record with an astounding 408 rushing yards against the once-mighty Nebraska Cornhuskers. It was a microcosm of what Waynes had seen out Gordon in high school. Some players make mistakes and it affects them adversely. Gordon makes a mistake and gets the eye of the tiger.
“He’s a competitor,” Waynes said. “He loves to compete. If he messes up, he’s not one of those players that gets his head down. He wants to go harder the next time. That’s something we saw in college when he broke the record against Nebraska. He had fumbled the ball and when I saw him on the sideline, I texted our best friend Joe and said, ‘He’s about to go crazy.’ That’s when he broke the record.”
One of the things that has kept their connection strong is the fact that Gordon’s childhood friend is now teammates of his childhood idol – Adrian Peterson. Waynes said he has been quizzed about Peterson’s practice habits and whether he takes his game as seriously when the lights aren’t on as he does when they are.
Waynes has given him the affirmative on that, praising A.P.’s work ethic. It is something Gordon is looking to emulate as he is now a peer of Peterson’s as a workhorse running back in a NFL offense.
“Since I can remember, he’s always been a fan of him,” Waynes said. “That’s somebody you want to look up to. Adrian’s a great player. He’s somebody who set the bar high and somebody to look up to.”
Usually, it takes the Packers coming to town for there to be a Wisconsin influence in the stands of a home Vikings game. But with two of the greatest players to ever come out of Kenosha on the field at the same time on different teams, there is going to be a Wisconsin presence, whether its friends and family from Kenosha or fans of Gordon from his Wisconsin days.
Asked to speculate how many people would be coming to see Waynes and Gordon renew acquaintances, he couldn’t even give a guesstimate. All he knows is TCF Bank Stadium is going to have Kenosha represented.
“I couldn’t even tell you,” Waynes said. “A lot. People I don’t even talk to are telling me they’re coming, so I would imagine a lot.”