Sometimes, a great story is told in the lives that are lived after the event. What happened in Long Beach, California in the fall of 2001 is one of those stories. The matchup between De La Salle and Long Beach Poly on October 3, 2001 was one of the most anticipated high school football games in history. It was the first time that the top two teams in USA Today’s Super 25 had met, an event which has since been repeated several times since.
While De La Salle ran away with the game 29-15, many of the players on the field would go on to prosper in the sport. Maurice Drew became a star in that game by scoring four touchdowns, launching a legendary career. At the time, Long Beach Poly had one of the most talented rosters of all time, highlighted by the “Fab Five”, five players who were ranked in the top 100 in the nation. Those five fantastic players were Hershel Dennis, Winston Justice, Manuel Wright, Darnell Bing and Marcedes Lewis. In total, the Jackrabbits had 24 players on the field that evening who would go on to earn a Division 1 scholarship. Between the two teams, nine players who played in this game would go on to earn a spot on an active roster in the NFL.
This story is primarily about those who made the highest level of football, an active roster in the NFL. The story of one of the most anticipated high school football games of all time has been told time and again through their individual journeys in the game of football. These are their stories.
When the lights of the more than 120 media credential faded and the extra bleachers for the more than 17,000 in attendance rolled away, the game that had been dubbed “The Game of the Century” quickly transitioned from a highly anticipated event to one of legend. Long Beach Poly’s great collection of talent quietly dispersed into varying stages of obscurity. All-American running back Hershel Dennis paced the Jackrabbits offense and went to USC after graduation. While a Trojan, he led the team in rushing as sophomore, gaining 661 yards and scoring five total touchdowns in 2003. Unfortunately, he struggled to compete against playmakers such as Reggie Bush and LenDale White the following year and he barely gained more than 200 yards on the ground in his final two years.
While at Long Beach Poly, Dennis enjoyed running behind offensive tackle Winston Justice who went to USC with Dennis where they won national championships in 2003 and 2004. Winston Justice stayed with USC until after the 2005 season and was drafted in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. After spending 2006 on Injured Reserve, Justice allowed six sacks against the New York Giants in his first game in 2007. He became the Eagle’s full time starter in 2009 and held that spot until 2012 when he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts. He was traded to the Denver Broncos the following year where he made the Super Bowl, losing 43-8 to the Seattle Seahawks. He retired after the season.
On the other side of the line was defensive tackle Manuel Wright who had gotten into a substantial amount of trouble while at USC and ended up leaving school early due to academic reasons. He was taken in the 2005 NFL Supplemental Draft by the Miami Dolphins. From the very beginning, he struggled with maturity and weight issues. One time as a rookie, he broke down in tears after being berated by coach Nick Saban. The Dolphins cut him after the 2006 season and he was quickly waved by the Buffalo Bills before the 2007 season even began. What was once an unfortunate circumstance turned into an opportunity when he signed with the New York Giants. While he only appeared in six games, Manuel Wright won the Super Bowl with the Giants when they upset the previously undefeated New England Patriots. After stints with the Stockton Lightning and the Utah Blaze, Wright was done with the game.
Safety Darnell Bing started his career as a USC Trojan academically ineligible. After his redshirt year, he played well in his final three years of college. By his redshirt junior year in 2005, he was named a Jim Thorpe Award Finalist and was an All-American. After declaring himself eligible for the 2006 NFL Draft, Bing was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the fourth round. He was released by the team after his rookie year and spent the 2007 season on the practice squad of the 49ers. After spending a brief moment with the New York Jets in the 2008 offseason, Bing signed with the Detroit Lions who were in the midst of the league’s first winless season. After spending the 2010 season on the Houston Texans practice squad, Darnell Bing retired.
Linebacker Pago Togafau went to Idaho State but was not drafted in the 2007 NFL Draft. Instead, he signed as a rookie free agent with the Arizona Cardinals. After spending some time on their practice squad, Togafau was released and signed with the Eagles for the rest of the 2007 season. After his lone years in Philadelphia, Togafau signed with the Cardinals and made the Super Bowl in 2008, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers. After one more year in Arizona, Togafau signed with the Tennessee Titans and the Cardinals in 2010 before retiring following the 2011 season on the Cardinal’s practice squad.
Tight end Marcedes Lewis went to UCLA where he was named a consensus All-American in 2005. He was drafted in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars and his numbers steadily improved until 2010 when he had 700 receiving yards and ten touchdown receptions, earning his first Pro Bowl invitation. In the following years, the Jaguars struggled mightily until 2017, his last year in Jacksonville. The Jaguars stunned the NFL and made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game where they lost to the Patriots. After that magical season, Marcedes Lewis signed with the Packers who have made the past two NFC Championship Games. Lewis still plays for Green Bay.
After winning the Game of the Century, De La Salle would continue to win until 2004, when all of their star players from the 2001 team had graduated. Their winning streak would stretch to 151 games, a national record, and their 2001 team has been viewed as at least one of the best in school history.
Quarterback Matt Gutierrez never tasted defeat in any of his four years at De La Salle. Following graduation, he went to Ann Arbor to play for the University of Michigan. He was supposed to start in 2004 but he tore his labrum in the offseason and transferred to Idaho State University. He went undrafted in 2007 and was signed as a rookie free agent by the Patriots. While New England went undefeated in the regular season, Gutierrez attempted and completed one pass for 15 yards. He failed to capitalize on an opportunity the following year when Tom Brady tore his ACL in the first game of the season and watched as fellow backup quarterback Matt Cassel took over the offense for the season.
The Patriots waived him after the season and Gutierrez signed with Kansas City. In his lone season with the Chiefs, Gutierrez attempted and completed one pass for three yards. That proved to be his final regular season on an active roster in the NFL. In the following years, Matt Gutierrez spent time on the practice squads of the Bears, Washington and Rams. During this time, he spent some time in the Arena League where he would spend his final year in football. The Kansas City Command signed him in 2012 where he threw 35 touchdowns, coughed up 17 interceptions and passed for 2,331 yards. He retired after the season.
Receiver Cameron Colvin was ranked as high as second in the nation in his position group and accepted a scholarship to the University of Oregon. In four years as a Duck, Colvin recorded 892 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. He went undrafted in 2008 and was waived by the 49ers in the 2008 offseason. Fellow wide receiver Demetrius Williams also went to Oregon where he starred in the Duck’s attack. He recorded 935 yards receiving and eight touchdowns as a sophomore and as a senior he gained 1,059 yards receiving and scored ten touchdowns. He left Eugene, Oregon ranked third in school history with 162 career receptions.
The Baltimore Ravens drafted him in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. As a rookie, he gained 396 yards receiving and scored two touchdowns. He was hurt for large chunks of the next two years and he only gained 470 yards and scored one touchdown between those years. Going into 2009, he knew that his rookie contract was up after the year and that he needed to show the organization that they should keep him. Though he suited up in 12 games that year, he only gained 142 yards and scored one touchdown. The team released him after the season and he signed with the Browns for the 2010 season. He never caught a pass for Cleveland and was targeted twice in as many games that he played. After playing with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL, Williams retired.
Defensive lineman Derek Landri was a highly coveted prospect in high school and got offers from all over the country. The High School All American decided to attend Notre Dame University. Between his junior and senior seasons in South Bend, Indiana, Derek Landri recorded ten sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss. The Jaguars drafted him in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL Draft, joining his high school teammate Maurice Jones-Drew. He started in 13 games that year while recording 11 tackles for the playoff-bound Jaguars. They defeated the Steelers in the first round but lost to the Patriots in the Divisional Round.
It would be Derek Landri’s only postseason of his NFL career. He recorded three sacks in his last two years in Jacksonville and was released by the team after the 2009 season. Even though the team was the worst in the NFL, Derek Landri had a career year with the Panthers in 2010, recording three sacks and 30 solo tackles. From there he signed with Philadelphia where he recorded two sacks in his first year as an Eagle. He recorded five tackles for loss in 2012 but was released by the team who had just fired coach Andy Reid and were looking to start fresh with a new regime. The Tampa Bay Buccaneer wanted him and Landri recorded one sack in his last NFL season. He retired after the 2013 season.
Maurice Drew became a national sensation against Long Beach Poly in 2001. As a junior, he scored four touchdowns against the Jackrabbits and he immediately got loads of offers from big name schools. He decided to attend UCLA, joining Marcedes Lewis. Drew immediately made an impact, gaining 582 yards and scoring five touchdowns as a freshman. He made himself known in Pasadena as a sophomore, gaining 1,007 yards and scoring eight touchdowns while gaining an additional 262 yards receiving and scoring three touchdowns. It was around this time that his grandfather passed away. Always close, Maurice Drew decided to add his grandfather’s surname to his own. Thus, Maurice Jones-Drew was born. After gaining 1,367 yards from scrimmage and scoring 17 total touchdowns in an All-American junior season, Jones-Drew decided to forgo his senior year and enter the NFL Draft, being selected in the second round by the Jaguars.
He hit the ground running as a rookie, rushing for 941 yards and 13 touchdowns while adding an additional 436 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He rushed for 768 yards and nine touchdowns in 2007 as the Jaguars made the playoffs. In his first ever NFL playoff game, Jones-Drew caught and rushed for two touchdowns as the Jaguars upset the Steelers 31-29. Though the Jaguars fought the Patriots for a half the next week, they lost 31-20. Jones-Drew contributed with six rushes for 19 yards and six receptions for 49 yards. It would be his final playoff game in the NFL.
Two years later, he was invited to the first of three straight Pro Bowls after rushing for 1,391 yards and scoring 16 total touchdowns. He rushed for 1,324 yards in 2010 and led the league in rushing with 1,606 yards in 2011 while being named first team All Pro in both 2010 and 2011.
After an injury-marred 2012 season, Maurice Jones-Drew had one last good year in 2013, rushing for 803 yards and scoring five touchdowns. He was cut at the end of the season and played the 2014 season in Oakland, gaining 167 total yards and failing to score a single touchdown for his hometown team. At the end of the season, Maurice Jones-Drew retired from the NFL.