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Tuesday, December 06, 2005 | For decades in San Diego sports, you never suggested the next phenom in baseball, basketball or football someday could be the best ever from a San Diego high school. Not unless you wanted to embarrass yourself, that is, and have the guy sitting across from you laugh and spit up his drink on you.
Excuse me, but no one will be better than Ted Williams, the baseball Hall-of-Famer from Hoover High.
Excuse me, but no one will be better than Bill Walton, the basketball Hall-of-Famer from Helix High.
And until now, I would have always said, excuse me, but no one will be better than Marcus Allen, the football Hall-of-Famer from Lincoln High.
They have been our three long-standing icons, but Reggie Bush might be good enough in football for a future debate. Just raising the question is remarkable in itself.
The USC All-American junior running back from Helix High is expected to become San Diego’s fourth Heisman Trophy winner Saturday when the award is announced. He’ll join Allen (1981, USC), Rashaan Salaam (1994, Colorado, La Jolla Country Day) and Ricky Williams (1998, Texas, Patrick Henry High).
Bush will then have matched Allen on two of three levels – San Diego’s CIF San Diego Section high school player of the year and Heisman Trophy winner. But Bush must still prove himself in the NFL to nudge Allen aside.
Allen and Terrell Davis, another Lincoln alumnus who wasn’t a star until his NFL days with the Denver Broncos, are two of only nine players named an NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP.
But here’s something to consider:
1. When Allen won the Heisman, he was knocked down to the 10th pick of the NFL’s draft’s first round because of concerns about his speed.
2. When Salaam won the Heisman, he was knocked down to the 21st pick of the first round because of concerns about his speed and elusiveness.
3. When Williams won the Heisman, he was knocked down from once being considered the first pick to fifth overall and the second running back because of concerns about his ability to catch the ball.
4. When Davis – who was lightly recruited out of high school and began his career at Long Beach State before the program folded and he went to Georgia – came out of college, he was drafted in the sixth round.
The only thing that will knock Bush down in the draft – should he turn pro, which his parents have said he will do – is if the team with the No. 1 pick prefers a quarterback.
It will be their mistake to regret for years to come. Remember when the Portland Trailblazers drafted on need, passing on Michael Jordan to take center Sam Bowie? Bush could become the Michael Jordan of football.
The only question mark about Bush, a 6-foot, 202-pounder, had to answer this year was about his power between the tackles. USC had limited him to running outside the tackles – wisely so, since that got him in space and the Trojans also featured a power back in LenDale White – but this year Bush was the starting tailback and showed his power.
I asked former Oakland Raiders coach Tom Flores, who coached Allen with the Raiders and who was in town Sunday for his team’s loss to the Chargers, if there are any remaining questions about Bush as a pro.
“No, none at all,” he said. “He’s got power. The guy is the real thing. He’s fast, he’s got balance and he can cut. There aren’t many guys as tall as him who can cut and keep their balance. Your guy here (Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson) can do that, but he’s shorter (5-foot-10) and plays lower to the ground.”
USC coach Pete Carroll says “Gale Sayers” when asked to compare Bush to one of football’s all-time greats.
“I thought that from the start,” Carroll said. “He runs a lot like him with the great change of direction, great vision and great burst. Gale Sayers was a terrific runner and catcher. I’d love to sit down and look at some old Gale Sayers tapes to see what compares between them, but what I remember about Gale Sayers that is similar to Reggie is the way they use the whole field to make their cuts back against the grain.”
Bush is sometimes compared to Marshall Faulk, the San Diego State All-American speedster from New Orleans who was a Heisman runner-up as a sophomore in 1992. But Faulk doesn’t have Bush’s open-field moves. And as fast as Faulk is, he’s not as fast as Bush.
Bush ran the100 meters in an electronic 10.42 seconds as a junior at Helix. Forget all the 4.2, 4.3 and 4.4 40-yard times you hear about in football. Most of them are bogus.
Understand this: there are not many human beings that can run 10.42 as a junior in high school (Bush was injured his senior track season). A football scout with a stopwatch would have clocked Bush’s electronic 10.42 in the high 10.2s for a hand time.
Bush could have been an Olympic sprinter, but he’s a rare human with football instincts and world-class speed.
Ted, may you rest in peace, your position is secure.
Bill, may you keep enlightening us about basketball on TV, your position is secure.
Marcus, forgive me. I never thought this was possible to suggest, but Reggie Bush might someday be the greatest football player ever from San Diego.
Tom Shanahan has been writing about San Diego athletes at the professional, collegiate and high school levels for 27 years. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions (www.sdhoc.com). You can e-mail him at