For Maurice Jones-Drew, there was one topic throughout his NFL career that could always get teammates riled up and ready to argue:
Which high school was better, mine or yours?
Jones-Drew was always arguing on behalf of his De La Salle teams, particularly the 2001 one. Now, at least one major national outlet has agreed with him.
ESPN’s Bill Connelly, a renowned college football analyst and historian, released his ranking of the top 50 high school football teams of all-time last Friday.
And taking the No. 1 spot? Those 2001 Spartans that Jones-Drew (then known as Maurice Drew) shined for.
“It’s awesome to hear that,” said Jones-Drew, who averaged almost 12 yards a carry and tallied 26 touchdowns as a junior for the 2001 team. “In the rich history of high school football in our country, to be ranked No. 1, it’s pretty awesome. It’s definitely something to be proud of, to be a part of it.”
De La Salle’s Maurice Drew, #21, blows past Antioch’s defense and scores in the 2nd quarter of their NCS 4A first round playoff game on Friday, November 22, 2002 at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, Calif. (Contra Costa Times/Jose Carlos Fajardo)
Of course, both Jones-Drew and Connelly fully acknowledge that the list is completely subjective, with Jones-Drew saying, “You don’t really know.”
After all, teams from even the 1910s make Connelly’s list and come from states all across the country. In the top 20 alone, there are three teams from California, four from Texas and Florida, three from Ohio and a single school from Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey and Virginia.
But it’s hard to argue with De La Salle’s pedigree and the sheer volume of talent, especially during the heights of its 151-game winning streak. Connelly wrote that De La Salle tested his self-declared “no more than two teams from one school” list while ranking the 2003 Spartans at No. 15 and the 2001 team on top.
MaxPreps did a similar ranking in 2018 and while it did not rank back-to-back seasons from the same school, MaxPreps had the 2003 team up as its No. 2 team overall and also the 1998 team at No. 19 and the 1994 team at No. 34.
But both rankings had De La Salle’s 2001 team at No. 1, which may be helped by its top opponent from that year in Long Beach Poly, which Jones-Drew said “should be ranked higher” than Connelly’s No. 50 spot.
Long Beach Poly (circa 2001) is the only team that lost a game on Connelly’s list, and the loss came in the first-ever game between teams ranked as No. 1 vs. No. 2 nationally — a game so big that De La Salle’s 29-15 win, with Jones-Drew rushing for four touchdowns, got a recap of it in Sports Illustrated.
“In the middle of the most untouchable winning streak in the history of high school sports, they put together their most untouchable team,” Connelly wrote. “The Spartans had to be No. 1 on this list.”
Now back at his alma mater as a quarterbacks coach, Jones-Drew didn’t see the list himself on Friday before the Spartans’ 35-14 loss to Southern California powerhouse Orange Lutheran. But he first got wind of it when a friend texted it to him and has reconnected with several other former Spartans about the ranking since.
“It’s cool that a lot of my former teammates got back in contact after that,” Jones-Drew said. “It’s been awesome to talk to people that I haven’t talked to in a while because of it, to rekindle those relationships.
“Part of the reason that I coach at De La Salle now is because of the impact those coaches had on me during that time in high school.”
SAN MATEO – De La Salle quarterback Brayden Knight (11) hands off to Derrick Blanche (22) as coach Maurice Jones-Drew watches. Serra and De La Salle held a high school football showcase at Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif. on Thursday, May 18, 2023 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group)
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As for the NFL locker rooms? Jones-Drew and Derek Landri, his former teammate at both De La Salle and the Jaguars, used to pull out the highlight tapes for his Jacksonville teammates to see.
The smack talk would fly then, with people challenging the former Spartans. But now?
“They haven’t hit me up yet — but they read it though,” Jones-Drew said. “It’s always best when you don’t have to say anything and it’s just there.”
And the pride in what the Spartans accomplished still carries through Jones-Drew to this day.
“For us to be number one, I think it’s well-suited,” Jones-Drew said. “I don’t think there ever will be a team like that in high school ever again.”
Da La Salle’s Maurice Drew (#21) runs for a touchdown during their game against Hayward at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, Calif. on Friday, November 29, 2002. (SHERRY LAVARS/TIMES)