The Super Bowl is the ultimate prize in professional football, the one true shot at everlasting glory for teams strapping on helmets and pads every week. But for the dozens of players vying to achieve football immortality, remember that they too all started as high school recruits, and they weren't all five-star, can't-miss prospects.
Here's a look at the AFC Championship Game and what three key players on each team were like coming out of high school.
Note: Both starting quarterbacks were recruited in the before times, the long long ago, before the Internet ranked recruiting classes and put high school seniors' measurements online. So that's why we're talking about key players in this game and not mentioning, y'know, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
Knowshon Moreno, #10 RB (****), South HS (Middletown, NJ)
RB, 5'11, 205 pounds, 4.48 40
Offers: Georgia (committed), Florida, Michigan, Virginia Tech
Even back in 2006, it was well understood that Moreno was a big deal, and his commitment was one of the highest of the high-profile additions to the Bulldogs' class (one that included the likes of five-star, No. 1 QB and future No. 1 overall NFL pick Matthew Stafford). Moreno excelled at Georgia before being taken in the first round by the Broncos, and he broke 1,000 yards for the first time in his NFL career this year.
Demaryius Thomas, #34 WR (***), West Laurens HS (Dublin, Ga.)
WR, 6'4, 215 pounds, 4.68 40
Offers: Georgia Tech (committed), Georgia, Duke
Thomas was a three-star WR recruit out of central Georgia, and Scout.com rated him a three-star prospect who was a bit of a tweener between WR and TE. That he ended up putting up a 1,154-yard season in such a receiver-unfriendly offense as Paul Johnson's (despite committing to play in Chan Gailey's pro-style scheme, which Calvin Johnson starred in) seemed slightly at odds with his dream of preparing for the NFL, so shows you what we all know!
Danny Trevathan, unranked ILB (**), Leesburg (Fla.) HS
6'2, 215 pounds, 4.59 40
Offers: Kentucky (committed), Arkansas, Ole Miss
The Broncos' most productive defender (especially with Von Miller gone for the year with a torn ACL) wasn't even the best LB recruit of his own class at Kentucky in 2008. Trevathan and classmate Taylor Wyndham were both only two-star recruits, but Rivals.com rated Wyndham a 5.4 on its scale, while Trevathan received only a 5.3. And while Wyndham ended up gaining notoriety in college for being the guy who sacked Tim Tebow on the play that gave Tebow a concussion, Trevathan's now going ballistic in the NFL in just his second year of play after being selected in the sixth round.
New England Patriots
Julian Edelman, unranked dual-threat QB (**), College of San Mateo (Calif.)
6'0, 195 pounds, 4.5 40
Offers: Kent State
Well sure, a lightly recruited dual-threat QB who goes to some rinky-dink MAC school ends up as a surefire Hall of Fame QB's favorite receiver. That's how it always works, right? Anyway, we're glad Edelman stopped trying to throw the ball, although just typing that inevitably means he's going to throw a touchdown on an end around in the Super Bowl, basically guaranteeing him a Super Bowl MVP award. It's going to happen.
Dont'a Hightower, #15 OLB (****), Marshall County (Lewisburg, Tenn.) HS
6'3, 248 pounds, 4.7 40
Offers: Alabama (committed), Auburn, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech
Back before Alabama was Alabama again, its talent levels had gotten pretty mediocre and Nick Saban had to do something about that. In came big-time recruits like Hightower, who played LB at nearly 250 pounds in high school and bulked up to 270 with the Crimson Tide. Despite not cracking the Rivals 100 in 2008, Hightower went on to become a first-round draft pick by the Patriots and is New England's leading tackler in his second season.
Rob Ninkovich, unranked DE (***), Joliet (Ill.) JC
6'3, 240 pounds, 4.7 40
Offers: Purdue (committed), Iowa, N.C. State, Indiana
Ninkovich was a JUCO stud, but when you've got two years of eligibility, even stud status gets you three stars. At any rate, Ninkovich was a third-team NJCAA All-American, and his commitment led to this lede, which has aged a bit, seeing as it's about Purdue ... and not so gracefully: "For Rob Ninkovich, the lure of playing for a winning program was just too strong to turn down." 2004 was a weird time, man.