The Super Bowl is the ultimate prize in professional football, the one true shot at everlasting glory for the teams strapping on the helmets and pads. But though these players are vying for 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 NFC Championship Game and what three key players on each team were like coming out of high school.
Russell Wilson, unranked dual-threat QB (**), The Collegiate School (Richmond, VA)
5'11, 180 pounds, 4.53 40
Offers: NC State (committed), Duke
Russell Wilson flew under the radar in high school, which isn't terribly surprising considering the QB radar starts at six feet. Wilson's high school highlights were predictably absurd, but his height and baseball-ish tendencies turned most coaches off.
Fun fact! The only other offer listed on Rivals for Wilson was from Duke, where he was recruited by new Texans coach Bill O'Brien. Lord, what a different universe that would have been.
Wilson would eventually star at NC State while continuing to dabble in baseball before transferring to Wisconsin for one magical year. He was then picked after a punter in the 2012 NFL Draft, a decision Jacksonville surely has zero regret about to this day.
Richard Sherman, #65 athlete (***), Dominguez (Compton, Calif.) HS
6'3, 167 pounds, 4.64 40
Offers: Stanford (committed), UCLA, Colorado, Ole Miss
Sherman was wiry thin as a high school prospect, and though he didn't have a set position straight outta Compton Dominguez (many schools were considering him as a receiver), Stanford plugged him in at corner, and off he went.
Sherman has turned into one of the elite cornerbacks of the NFL, especially as he uses his size to muscle out smaller receivers and provide effective run support, but it's odd to remember that even coming out of Stanford, one of the knocks on Sherman was that he wasn't physical enough, and the film bore that out. Credit the Seahawks (and, of course, Sherman himself) for putting in the work to mold him into a complete playmaker.
Earl Thomas, #12 safety (****), West Orange-Stark (Orange, TX) HS
5'10, 174 pounds, 4.4 40
Offers: Texas (committed), Texas A&M
Thomas didn't have elite size as a senior prospect -- you can find DB prospects who clock in around 5'10" and a buck-seventy-something at practically any school -- but even early on, he had the elite speed and agility to make him a weapon on the field. And when Texas came calling 11 months before Signing Day, he committed and that was that.
Like Sherman, Thomas was stellar in college despite concerns with his physicality and tackling. Of course, concern here is relative, as it pushed him all the way to the 14th overall pick, but it's downright funny to think of Earl Thomas being scared of contact, isn't it?
San Francisco 49ers
Colin Kaepernick, #34 pro-style QB (***), Pitman (Turlock, CA) HS
6'4, 172 pounds, no 40 listed
Offers: Nevada (committed)
Yes, Colin Kaepernick, the QB who perfected the pistol offense under Chris Ault and dragged the NFL kicking and screaming into the zone read era, was classified as a "pro-style" QB. He was also an legitimate baseball prospect at one point, thanks to his fastball. And we suppose he is, now. Kaepernick was rail-thin coming out of high school and received scant attention from FBS programs, but Nevada took him in and he quickly turned into the greatest quarterback the Wolf Pack has ever seen. It helps that he put on nearly 60 pounds between his high school days and the NFL Combine (233 pounds), of course.
NaVorro Bowman, #12 ILB (****), Suitland (Md.) HS
6'0, 218 pounds, 4.7 40
Offers: Penn State (committed), Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Michigan State
Football recruiting is rarely a predictable pursuit, but when a high-profile defender from the state of Maryland cropped up and then-Penn State assistant Larry Johnson Sr. set his sights on him? Yep, that kid was going to Penn State.
Bowman excelled at PSU and left for the NFL early, where he dropped to the 91st pick, late in the third round. He is now a three-time All-Pro at linebacker for the 49ers, and he's one win away from his second trip to the Super Bowl.
Vernon Davis, #4 TE (****), Dunbar (Washington, DC) HS
6'4, 220 pounds, 4.5 40
Offers: Maryland (committed), Florida, Syracuse, Purdue, Virginia
We apologize not only for the quality of the video above, which was apparently filmed with a potato, but for the grisly bloodsport of watching high school athletes try to tackle Vernon Davis. The trucking at 0:47 ... come on.
Davis bulked up to 250 pounds at Maryland and got faster in the process, which cannot be fair, and he was rewarded with the sixth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. He's a two-time Pro Bowler and an absolute monster as a blocker, to say nothing of his prodigious receiving skills.