Before football careers, many NFL stars excelled at track
19 August 2016, 14:27
RIO DE JANEIRO — Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. has a unique perspective on the exploits of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, who has become the star of the final week of the Rio Olympics.
Ginn competed against Bolt when their 4x100-meter relay teams squared off in high school. Ginn's team won.
He was recruited to Ohio State University with the thought that he could qualify for the 2008 Olympics, and he ran the 100 meters in 10.2 seconds as a freshman. Ginn chose football over track, and now is gearing up for another season with the Panthers after coming up short in the Super Bowl in February.
"Just watching (the Olympics) on TV right now, I kind of get goosebumps on certain races ... like the 4x400, the 400, 200, 110," Ginn told reporters during training camp. "That gives me goosebumps, because a lot of them guys are No. 1 guys we raced in high school."
Ginn is one of several NFL players who had stellar track careers before football — a sport where Olympic speed is a coveted commodity. Many of them were so good at sprints, jumps and hurdles in college or high school that they thought long and hard about pursuing Olympic gold over a Super Bowl ring.
Here is a look at some of them:
MARQUISE GOODWIN: The Buffalo Bills wideout attempted last month to qualify for the Rio Games in long jump, but finished seventh, blaming the result on a strained hamstring suffered during qualifications. He made the Olympic track and field team in London in 2012, finishing 10th in long jump. Goodwin, a two-time NCAA champion in the event, is now with the Bills getting ready for the 2016 season.
JAMAAL CHARLES: Before he became one of the top running backs in football, Charles was an elite sprinter. His best time in the 100 in college at the University of Texas was 10.27. By comparison, Bolt clocked in at 9.81 in his gold medal win in Rio.
During the NFL lockout a few years ago, Charles told The Associated Press that he would have gone back to track if the work stoppage dragged into the season. "Track is my first love," he said.
CHRIS JOHNSON: While a running back for the Tennessee Titans, Johnson raised eyebrows during the 2012 London Games when he told the Tennessean that he could beat Bolt in the 40-yard dash. Johnson had good reason to be confident about his chances in the 40. He holds the record for fastest time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine — 4.24 seconds.
ROBERT GRIFFIN III: The Cleveland Browns quarterback was a superb hurdler at Baylor University before he made football his focus and became a Heisman Trophy winner. He was an All-American in the 400-meter hurdles, with a career best time of 49.22 to win the Big 12 Outdoor Championship in 2008. The gold medalist in the event Thursday clocked a time of 47.73.
ADRIAN PETERSON: The Minnesota Vikings running back was a high school track star in Palestine, Texas, before focusing on football at Oklahoma. He ran personal bests of 10.19 seconds in the 100 and 21.23 seconds in the 200. While he was in a contract dispute with the Vikings two years ago, Peterson briefly considered leaving the NFL to make a run at the Olympics.
PAST GENERATION: Former Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best qualified for the Rio Olympics for his father's native St. Lucia and ran against Bolt in Rio in a preliminary race in the 100. He did not advance after finishing with a time of 10.16.
The former NFL player who had perhaps the most decorated track career was Renaldo Nehemiah. He was the world's best hurdler for a time in the late 1970s and early '80s, becoming the first athlete to run the 110-meter high hurdles under 13 seconds. Nehemiah was considered a favorite in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow in the event but could not compete because of the U.S. boycott amid tensions with the Soviet Union.
Nehemiah played three seasons as a wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers and was on the team that won the Super Bowl after the 1984 season. It was his last season with the team, however, as the 49ers drafted Jerry Rice the following season.