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2014 Super Bowl stars as recruits: The Broncos offense vs. Seahawks defense

The clash of Peyton Manning's No. 1 offense and Seattle's No. 1 defense will be one of the biggest matchups in NFL history. Let's take a look at each starter on those two units as high school prospects.

Former heralded recruit Peyton Manning as a freshman in 1994.
Former heralded recruit Peyton Manning as a freshman in 1994.
Rick Stewart/ALLSPORT

SB Nation 2014 NFL Playoff Coverage

Denver Broncos offense

QB Peyton Manning, No. 1 QB (pre-dated star ratings), Isidore Newman HS (New Orleans, La.)

6'5, [We couldn't find his listed weight in high school, but he was very, very skinny]

Offers: Tennessee (committed), Ole Miss, others

Manning was the most-prized recruit in the country coming out of high school, and when he chose the Volunteers in 1994 over Ole Miss, his father Archie's alma mater, it was a shocker. Peyton didn't disappoint at Tennessee, becoming the school's best-ever quarterback, and one of the best signal-callers in college football history. He threw for more than 11,000 yards and completed 89 touchdown passes in four years at Knoxville, and he capped off his career by leading Tennessee to the SEC title in 1997.

And yes, he was Peyton Manning even in high school, at least according to local legend. Via Lil Wayne, of all people:

A guy who has been on the road with us, he was like an uncle to us, he told us this story. When he was in jail, about to come home, he was put on one of those work-release things in New Orleans. Every morning, real early, he would clean the schoolyard of the [Isidore] Newman School [where the Manning kids attended]. Because he was a prisoner, he would have to clean the schoolyard at 4 or 5 in the morning. There was not one morning, 4:30, 5 in the morning, he wouldn't see Archie, Peyton, Cooper, or Eli out on the field. He'd see Archie throwing passes to Cooper, or Peyton throwing routes to Cooper.

RB Knowshon Moreno, No. 12 RB (****), South HS (Middletown, NJ)

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' fourth-ranked recruiting class (a class 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 of the 2009 Draft by the Broncos, and he broke 1,000 yards for the first time in his NFL career this year.

WR Demaryius Thomas, No. 53 WR (***), West Laurens HS (Dublin, Ga.)

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 considered him 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) was a testament to his ability, only affirmed by his back-to-back 1,400-yard seasons with the Broncos.

WR Wes Welker, unranked WR, Heritage Hall HS (Oklahoma City)

5'9, 185 pounds

Offers: Texas Tech (committed)

Welker was a high school superstar. He recorded nearly 5,800 career rushing and receiving yards, 80 career touchdowns, seven punt return touchdowns, 22 interceptions on defense, and 35 field goals for good measure, enough to win him every relevant Oklahoma Player of the Year award. Welker was overlooked in recruiting as too small and too slow. Oklahoma told him he shouldn't even try to walk on.

One week after Signing Day, Mike Leach brought in Welker. Four years later, Welker was leaving Tech as one of the best punt returners in the country and an All-Big 12 selection.

WR Eric Decker, unranked WR (**), Rocori HS (Cold Springs, Minn.)

6'3", 195 pounds, no listed 40

Offers: Minnesota (committed)

Decker was one of the earliest commitments to Minnesota's underwhelming 2005 class, and a rare recruiting coup for then-coach Glen Mason; Minnesota was the only offer that came in for Decker, and it worked out phenomenally as Decker turned in 3,119 yards and 24 touchdowns in his Gopher career. Despite his lack of offers, Decker was an accomplished high school athlete; he was all-area in football, basketball and baseball while at Rocori. Showoff.

TE Julius Thomas, unranked power forward, Tokay HS (Lodi, Calif.)

6'6, 215 pounds

Offers: Portland State (committed), Boise State

Thomas was a rather unremarkable, borderline D-I power forward prospect coming out of high school, and he didn't even take up football until he walked on for his senior year at Portland State; he logged 29 catches for 453 yards and a pair of scores that year. Thomas wasn't bad as a basketball player, mind you; he was a four-year letterwinner at Portland State and averaged nearly 11 points as a senior. That's good! It's just, now he's in the Super Bowl and that's a lot better.

OT Chris Clark, unranked offensive tackle, McDonough 35 HS (New Orleans, LA)

6'5", 260 pounds, no listed 40

Offers: Southern Mississippi (committed), UL-Lafayette

Clark toiled in relative anonymity on his way to this biggest stage in the NFL; he was a lightly recruited tackle coming out of a downtown New Orleans high school, then an undrafted free agent who spent three years on practice squads before sticking with the Broncos in 2010. The Denver Post did a pretty great story on Clark and Manning, the latter coming from a, ahem, slightly better part of the gritty city.

OG Zane Beadles, unranked offensive lineman, Hillcrest HS (Midvale, UT)

6'4", 255 pounds, no listed 40

Offers: Utah (committed), Wyoming

Coming out of high school in Midvale (a nice little Salt Lake City suburb), Beadles was a decent regional prospect but little more than that. Of course, Beadles quickly developed into a masher at Utah and was a second-round pick by the Broncos before rounding out into Pro Bowl form in Denver, so we're not exactly talking about a Cinderella story here.

C Manny Ramirez, 13th overall pick, 1991 baseball draft, Cleveland Indians

This is the most amazing story of the Super Bowl that nobody is talking about. Slugger Manny Ramirez, a 12-time All Star with the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox in the '90s and 2000s, was booted from American major league baseball after repeated PED offenses. Ramirez turned those lemons into hormone-loaded lemonade, bulking up and joining the Denver Broncos as the starting center. Is Manny Ramirez the next Jameis Winston?

[Editor's note: No. This is wrong. All wrong. You do not know anything. Manny Ramirez, out of Sugarland, TX's Willowridge High, was the No. 6 center in the country in 2001. He is a football player.]

OG Louis Vasquez, No. 24 offensive tackle (***), Corsicana (Tex.) HS

6'5", 310 pounds, 5.1 40

Offers: Texas Tech (committed), Texas, Texas A&M, LSU, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, others

Vasquez wasn't a five-star, can't-miss prospect, but the fact that nearly all of the then-Big 12 -- plus LSU for good measure -- identified Vasquez as a viable 2004 prospect means there was a lot there. And lo and behold, a guy who graded out at 91 percent his senior year of high school without allowing a single sack transitioned nicely into college and then the NFL.

OT Orlando Franklin, No. 23 offensive tackle (****), Atlantic Community HS (Delray Beach, Fla.)

6'6", 290 pounds, 5.47 40

Offers: Miami (committed), Florida, Florida State, Louisville, others

Franklin graduated from high school in southern Florida, but he was born and raised in the roughest areas of Toronto, and he overcame a childhood fraught with poverty and lawlessness (including an arrest for robbery) before his mother Sylvia moved the family down to Florida to help him further pursue football.

Seattle Seahawks defense

DE Joseph "Red" Bryant, No. 40 defensive tackle (***), Jasper (Tex.) HS

6'5", 300 pounds, 5.0 40

Offers: Texas A&M (committed), Arkansas, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Nebraska

Bryant was a standout at Jasper and a nice get for A&M in the 2003 recruiting cycle. In his senior year of high school, he earned Texas Class 3A All-State honors and was named Defensive Most Valuable Player for his district. He overcame dyslexia, diagnosed in the first grade, to qualify academically for college. As an Aggie, he was named All-Big 12 honorable mention in 2007.

DT Tony McDaniel, No. 47 strong-side defensive end (***), WJ Keenan HS (Columbia, S.C.)

6'7", 260 pounds, 4.6 40

Offers: Tennessee (committed), Georgia, Clemson, South Carolina

Mebane was one of the top defensive linemen out of South Carolina in the Class of 2003. He was named to the Class AAAA/AAA All-Area team in his senior year at Keenan. He went on to play three seasons for Tennessee, making just one career start for the Vols. He was dismissed from the program in 2005, after being arrested for punching another student in the face during a pickup basketball game.

DT Brandon Mebane, No. 23 defensive tackle (***), Crenshaw HS (Los Angeles)

6'1, 260 pounds, 4.7 40

Offers: Cal (committed), Arizona, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, UNLV, USC, Washington

Mebane went to Cal as a member of the Class of 2003 following an impressive senior season at Crenshaw. He compiled 75 tackles and 13 sacks in 2002, and was named the Los Angeles Central City Player of the Year. Sports Illustrated named him to the All-West Region First Team, and Rivals ranked him the No. 55 prospect in the state of California. He went on to earn two first-team All-Pac-10 selections at Cal, compiling 109 career tackles, 25.5 TFL, and 14.5 sacks in four seasons.

DE Chris Clemons, pre-dated star ratings, Griffin (Ga.) HS

Offers: Georgia (committed)

Clemons was an impact player in high school, earning letters in all four years and starting three. In his senior season, he was named to the Georgia AAA All-Region Team and nominated for Region MVP after recording 49 tackles, six sacks, and two interceptions. After dealing with injury issues in his first two seasons at Georgia, he started 10 games at linebacker in 2002 and was named as the most improved player on the team. When he left early for the Draft, Georgia coach Mark Richt said, "I'm not sure it was the wisest decision in this case, but time will tell."

OLB Bruce Irvin, No. 1 JUCO weak-side defensive end (****), Mt. San Antonio CC (Walnut, Calif.)

6'3, 235 pounds

Offers: West Virginia (committed), Arizona State, Tennessee

Irvin on his first week at WVU.

Irwin's rise is as improbabable as any story you'll ever hear. A high school dropout from Georgia, he was arrested for robbing a drug dealer's house in 2007. He avoided charges and managed to pass the GED, then enrolled at Mt. San Antonio, where he earned first-team JUCO All-American honors. In his junior year at West Virginia, he finished second in the country with 14 sacks and was named as an honorable mention All-American by Sports Illustrated.

MLB Bobby Wagner, unranked outside linebacker (**), Colony HS (Ontario, Calif.)

6'3, 210 pounds

Offers: Utah State (committed)

Wagner helped lead Colony to its first California state title in 2006 with 125 tackles and four sacks -- he also caught 11 touchdowns as a tight end -- but wasn't a highly touted prospect out of high school. At Utah State, he was a four-year starter at middle linebacker, won WAC Defensive Player of the Year accolades as a senior, and was thrice named to the All-WAC first team.

OLB Malcolm Smith, No. 8 athlete (****), Taft HS (Woodland Hills, Calif.)

6'2, 200 pounds, 4.4 40

Offers: USC (committed), Arizona, California, Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State, UCLA, Washington

Smith was a stud prospect in the Class of 2007, though where he would play was up for debate. He'd ran for 919 yards and 15 touchdowns as a halfback and recorded 10 sacks and four forced fumbles at linebacker in high school senior season, shortened by a leg injury. At USC, he played for Pete Carroll as a true freshman, finished second on the team in tackles twice, and second in tackles for loss once.

CB Richard Sherman, No. 38 athlete (***), Dominguez HS (Compton, Calif.)

6'3, 167 pounds, 4.64 40

Offers: Stanford (committed), Colorado, Mississippi State, Nevada, UCLA

Sherman's high school published this video of him starring on the Stanford video board.

Sherman is now known as that cornerback who was doing all that yelling, but coming out of high school, he was known as one of the better receivers/athletes in California. In his senior season as Dominguez, Sherman posted more than 1,000 all-purpose yards and returned three punts for touchdowns -- his coach says he wanted the ball "just like Terrell Owens." He was also an All-American triple jumper. Sherman spent his first season at Stanford as a wide receiver, where he won Pac-10 all-freshman honors. By his final two years, he had moved to defense and became a lockdown defensive back.

CB Byron Maxwell, No. 11 cornerback (****), Fort Dorchester HS (North Charleston, S.C.)

6'1, 185 pounds, 4.4 40

Offers: Clemson (committed), Florida State, Maryland, Nebraska, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Virginia Tech

Maxwell tore his ACL during his senior season at Fort Dorchester, but was still ranked among the nation's top cornerback prospects. He signed a letter of intent with Clemson, and redshirted his first year while continuing to recover from his high school injury. Maxwell became a special teams stalwart and tied the school record for appearances, but won a part-time starting spot only in his final year with the team.

S Kam Chancellor, No. 30 pro-style quarterback (***), Maury HS (Norfolk, Va.)

6'4, 200 pounds, 4.6 40

Offers: Virginia Tech (committed), James Madison, Kent State

In his senior year at Maury (where he once dated former Seahawks safety Kenny Easley's daughter), Chancellor passed for more than 2,000 yards and rushed for more than 500, but he was destined to become a defensive back in college. At Virginia Tech, he finished sixth in the team in tackles during his junior season and opted to forgo his senior campaign.

S Earl Thomas, No. 12 safety (****), West Orange-Stark HS (Orange, Texas)

5'10, 174 pounds, 4.4 40

Offers: Texas (committed), Texas A&M

Thomas was an All-Texas selection in his senior year of high school, and a four-sport letterman. A four-star recruit, he lived up to the hype in Austin, starting all 27 games of his career before leaving for the NFL after his redshirt sophomore season. In his final year with the Longhorns, he was a consensus All-American and Thorpe Award finalist.

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