ESPN's team of college writers and reporters has seen some things. In a world where collegiate athletics are on indefinite hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, denying us not only March Madness and spring football but also iconic events such as baseball's College World Series and softball's Women's College World Series, our group was enlisted to reflect on the top players, teams and performances that have marked its members' many decades of collective coverage. All college sports were on the table, but much like their MLB colleagues, our writers were bound by one rule -- they had to have seen the moments they were recounting in person.
Up next in our weeklong series -- the top prospects our group got an early glimpse of on the coverage trail.
Mechelle Voepel: Working in Newport News, Virginia, in 1992, I went to a high school boys' basketball game to see a player who just a few days earlier had practically single-handedly won his Bethel High team a state football championship as a quarterback, kick returner and defensive back. It took maybe two minutes of watching him zip and soar past everyone on the basketball court for me to be absolutely sure: "That kid is going to be an NBA star." It was Allen Iverson.
It reminded me of a couple of years earlier how a high school volleyball coach in Columbia, Missouri, told me to come watch an opposing player who, she said, "will destroy us." I asked the player's name, and the coach said, "I don't need to tell you. You'll know as soon as you see her play." That was Kristin Folkl, who won four state titles in volleyball and basketball, was an All-American in both sports at Stanford, then played in the WNBA.
Dave Wilson: In small-town East Texas in 1989, playing against my hometown Kilgore Bulldogs for the district championship, Henderson's Rickey Dudley put on an incredible display. In local parlance, he could run a hole in the wind, despite being a 6-foot-7, 225-pound tight end. He could run by you, sling tacklers off with a hip shake, or hurdle people like Randy Moss. Athletic enough to play safety, he probably was most dangerous as a punt returner. (He had more than 100 yards and a TD on returns when I saw him -- in the first half alone.)
One theory? "He's so tall, he knocks two seconds off the hang time," said Dickey Meeks, a legendary high school coach in the area. He was also so tall that he went to Ohio State on a basketball scholarship despite being the Texas 4A football player of the year. After a couple of years, he decided he wanted to give football a try again. His senior year at Ohio State, he averaged 13.3 points and 7.5 rebounds and also started at tight end for the Buckeyes, catching 37 passes for 575 yards (15.5 YPC) and seven touchdowns. He was selected with the No. 9 overall pick in the 1996 NFL draft and played eight years in the league. He would be a problem as a stand-up tight end in today's offenses.
Ryan McGee: He was already in college, but the first time I watched Florida State catcher Buster Posey take BP at the College World Series in 2008, it was so beautiful I just started giddily laughing. He had just been selected fifth overall by the San Francisco Giants. It was the workout day before the games started that weekend, and after the first ball he hit, the entirety of Rosenblatt Stadium fell silent. The other teams all started coming out of the concourse to watch him, and that crowd included six other guys who had just been first-rounders. Miami's Yonder Alonso said to me, "He's pretty good, isn't he?"
Sam Khan Jr.: Early in my career as a journalist, there were two recruits I saw on the high school gridiron who immediately invoked the thought "He's gonna play on Sundays" in my mind. The first was Dez Bryant. The second, and the one I remember most vividly, is Andrew Luck. As a quarterback, Luck had everything you could ask for: height, arm strength, accuracy, mobility, vision and toughness, and he was highly intelligent both on and off the field.
And Luck wasn't just a football player; he was a pretty good basketball player at Houston's Stratford High, too. But it was the way he threw the football -- I saw him throw a perfect 50-yard strike downfield while running away from pressure in a third-round playoff game -- that made me a believer. From the time I first saw him as a junior, I knew Luck was destined for greatness at the next level and eventually, a career in the NFL.
Mark Schlabach: More than a quarter century ago, I was covering high school sports and college football for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. My assignment on Nov. 4, 1994: travel to Elberton, Georgia -- the home of the Granite Bowl -- to watch No. 1 Washington County High play undefeated Elbert County High. I'll never forget seeing Washington County High linebacker Takeo Spikes play for the first time. He was one of the country's top recruits, and it was the first time I saw a man dominate boys. It was like watching Herschel Walker or Bo Jackson in high school, I'm guessing. Spikes was a monster on defense in the Golden Hawks' 42-7 victory, and he even caught a drag pass and ran 60 yards for a touchdown. It was the most dominant high school performance I ever saw. There was no question he was going to become a star in college and the NFL.
Ben Simmons was a phenom at LSU
Take a look back at some of Ben Simmons' big plays while he was at LSU.
Jeff Borzello: There are a few that come to mind: Anthony Davis, Andrew Wiggins, Ben Simmons -- and now Emoni Bates. But I didn't actually think Davis was the clear-cut No. 1 prospect in his class because he played on a horrible high school team and didn't emerge on the grassroots circuit until before his senior year, and it's still early for Bates. So I'll give the edge to Simmons over Wiggins.
Simmons was special. I knew it from the moment I first saw him at Pangos All-American Camp in spring 2012, when he was finishing up his freshman year of high school in Australia. He was one of the youngest players at that camp, but he was a monster in transition and showed innate playmaking and passing ability. That never changed. I've never seen a better player with the ball in his hands at that size than Simmons. In my opinion, he was the clear No. 1 player in the 2015 class from his freshman to his senior year -- and that's the sign of a transcendent talent.
Robert Nkemdiche devastates in bull rush test
John Brenkus challenges former Ole Miss DT Robert Nkemdiche to the Sport Science bull rush test.
Harry Lyles Jr.: In 2011, I ventured to the Georgia Dome to watch the AAAAA State Championship between Grayson and Walton High Schools. Robert Nkemdiche played the most dominant performance I've ever seen by a high school football player. At the time, he was a junior but considered the top prospect in the country. He dominated the defensive line, and when his team needed a first down on offense, it plugged him in at running back, where he mowed over the defense. When people talk about an athlete looking like a man among boys, I finally saw what that looked like.
Myron Medcalf: I saw Harry Giles, the No. 1 player in the 2016 class, two years after he'd torn the ACL in his left knee and a year before he'd torn the ACL in his right knee. Here was this 6-10 athlete running point guard for his AAU squad at a tournament in Minneapolis. This was before he'd committed to Duke. I couldn't believe that a young player coming off ACL surgery was somehow that graceful and unstoppable. We never saw the real Harry Giles at Duke or the NBA because of injuries, but he was special.
Tom VanHaaren: There are probably too many just to name one, so I'm going to go against the rules and give some short anecdotes on a few who stand out.
I was out in Arizona and saw an unrefined Taylor Lewan manhandle a poor defensive lineman across the entire width of the field into the opposing bench. I'm convinced he would've kept going had the stands not been there to stop him.
As far as defensive ends go, since they typically stand out, Robert Nkemdiche was unbelievable to see in person, as was Myles Garrett. Both just looked different than everyone else. I remember watching Garrett go one-on-one against offensive lineman Cameron Robinson in the Under Armour All-America Game and thinking we were watching NFL players go at it.
Leonard Fournette walked by me at the Under Armour game, and seeing his size in person was pretty incredible. One of his legs was the same diameter as my waist.