There isn’t anything special in the water flowing through the pipes at Glenville High in Cleveland. Maybe, the uniqueness can be found in a mix that’s much more difficult to see through.
“We come from a background where you’ve got to get it out from the mud,” Saints defensive back Justin Hardee said. “Really, we’re just taking advantage of each and every opportunity that we receive. That’s something that was preached to us growing up.”
The “we” is Hardee, receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and cornerback Marshon Lattimore. The three Glenville High Tarblooders all occupy spots on the Saints’ 53-man roster, a rarity even for a program that has produced a startling number of NFL players (eight were on NFL rosters this season). And all three will be key for the Saints as they prepare for Sunday’s NFC Divisional playoff game against Minnesota at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Food for thought: The odds of a high school or college player becoming an active-roster NFL player – there are 53 of them on the 32 NFL teams, a total of 1,696 jobs – are about 603 to 1.
“I think (the common thread) is hard work and dedication,” said Ted Ginn Sr., the receiver’s father and the Tarblooders’ football and track coach. “I think that all of those guys have one thing in common: They worked hard.
“But the most important thing is that they believed, when they were kids, that they could be on this level. But every time I look at them, I always think about what they’ve been taught, that you come from a community that you can achieve. They continue to show that every day because they know they’re the example, hope for others.”
Achieve, they have, as critical contributors.
Ginn Jr., a first-round draft pick (No. 9 overall) by Miami in 2007, has continued to flourish as his career progresses. After consecutive seasons of 739 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, and 752 yards and four touchdowns with Carolina, this year, at 32 years old, Ginn totaled 787 yards and four touchdowns with the Saints. His first playoff touchdown, an 80-yarder in the wild-card game last Sunday against his former Carolina teammates, was part of a four-catch, 115-yard day, his second 100-yard game in the playoffs.
Lattimore, the Saints’ first-round pick (No. 11) this season, led the team in interceptions (five, including one returned for a touchdown) and passes defensed (18) during the regular season, and was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team despite missing three games. He’s a leading candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and had two tackles and two passes defensed in the wild-card game.
“Glenville is the truth, man,” Lattimore said. “Crunch time and big moments and all that, you know you’ve been through it. Even though it’s high school, just to have that feel on any level – keeping your cool in situations, like when your back is against the wall – just things like that, it prepared me a lot, even at Ohio State. Glenville is where it all started.”
And Hardee, an undrafted rookie, made his mark on special teams: He blocked a punt that he recovered and returned for a touchdown against Tampa Bay, led the team with eight special team tackles and had a tackle for a yard loss on a punt return against the Panthers in the wild-card game.
“It’s a blessing to have two other guys from my high school on the same team with me,” Ginn Jr. said. “It’s very rare that you get them in all three phases.
“But it shows that we’re a dime a dozen. My father is producing a lot of good players up there, no matter if we won national titles or not. And we keep just showing that it’s a great place to be, it’s a great place to come from and we’re all just coming out and showing who we are.”
Who they are, Ginn Sr. stressed, are examples.
“We believe in service in the program and in school, and they’re just the example of it,” he said. “And they know that when they compete, even here, I always hear Marshon talk about ‘team.’ They were raised and built like that.
“They know how to humble themselves because they know the more that they serve, the more blessings they get. And they show that every week. I watch them, and sometimes I see all three of them make a big play. And I know they’re competing against each other because that’s how they were built.”
All three, in fact, made big plays in the playoff game: Ginn Jr.’s touchdown catch, Lattimore’s pass breakups and Hardee’s special teams tackle. And each is unique in his development, Ginn Jr. as a late bloomer, Lattimore as a blue-chip sensation and Hardee as a never-give-up grinder who played receiver in college, then transitioned to defense.
“Marshon is a gifted kid, but he loved to compete,” Ginn Sr. said. “He doesn’t like to be embarrassed, he doesn’t like to lose – I don’t care, in anything. He’s been like that all his life.
“Justin and Ted were hard workers, not so gifted in the beginning but worked hard to be gifted. But team guys and service guys, blue-collar guys and that’s all of them. Justin wasn’t like Marshon and Ted coming out, but he worked like they did and he believed that he could be who he is today. And that’s what I love about him.”
The feeling is reciprocal.
“He’s the reason,” Hardee said of Ginn Sr. “He’s the man who had the plan. So we just all bought in to what his plan was and now we’re all on a stage where we could make history in a few weeks. We’re taking it game by game but it’s definitely something special.”
Three players, from the same high school, on the same NFL team? There could be something in the water at Glenville. Maybe, though, there’s something in the mud.
“We talk about it all the time,” Lattimore said. “Three people from our high school on the same team in the NFL, it’s crazy. When you just sit back and think about it, like, we really did something. We’ve got some motivation for the younger kids coming out of that area.”
“I’m happy and proud of them, because I know that them doing that, the next one is coming,” Ginn Sr. said. “Because they can see that it’s possible. That’s what I do every day, that’s what I do for a living. Those guys are just the example of the work that we’re trying to do in the community and in the schools and in the children.”