This marks the 30th anniversary of USA TODAY recognizing the nation's top high school athletes. As we prepare to unveil the 2012 American Family Insurance ALL-USA Football Team at the end of the season, we'll dig into the archives and check in with ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades. Today, we look at 2003 All-USA running back Joe Casey.
The 2003 American Family Insurance All-USA football team had two running backs -- Adrian Peterson of Palestine (Texas) and Joe Casey of Paducah (Ky.) Tilghman.
Peterson was an All-American at Oklahoma and is a four-time All-Pro running back with the Minnesota Vikings.
Casey, who played last season for the Evansville Rage of the Continental Indoor Football League, never played a down of college football.
“He was the best I’ve ever coached in that position, even now that I’m in college,” said Campbellsville (Ky.) University football coach Perry Thomas, who coached Casey at Tilghman. “Projecting Joe from high school to what he would have been two to three years later, he could be playing in the NFL. He was a unique combination of tremendous speed, strength, hands and vision.”
Casey made the Kentucky high school record books for a 99-yard run he had in 2002 against Union (Tenn.) and a 2002 game where he ran for 417 yards against Franklin-Simpson (Franklin, Ky.).
“He was as good as I’ve ever coached against,” said Franklin-Simpson principal Tim Schlosser, the former football coach at Franklin-Simpson. “They threw the ball early but then just decided to pitch it to him. We had a young team and we couldn’t stop him. He had great speed and had so much power. He ran over our linebacker and stepped on him. He reminded me of Marcus Dupree.”
Casey rushed for 2,253 yards and 36 touchdowns his senior year and was pursued by major colleges. He committed to Kentucky, but academic and personal issues derailed his college career before it got started. He withdrew from Tilghman (Paducah, Ky.) the week after it lost in the state 3A semifinals.
He enrolled that spring at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College with the hopes of getting his high school degree through General Education Development classes, but didn’t stick around Coffeyville long enough to play.
“I had a young son at a young age,” said Casey, now 27. “My dad had always been there for me. When I left, it was very hard that I couldn’t be there with my son. I just chose to come home to my son.”
He stayed in Paducah and coaches youth football, including 9-year-old sons Joemetrius and Joe, born 13 days apart to different mothers.
“I’ve worked with a couple of boat companies, in a barber shop and driving, just doing everything you can possibly to get some money,” Casey said.
He has gone to several NFL combines, but was unable to sign with a team.
Last spring, he tried out with the Evansville Rage of the CIFL, which is a step below the Arena Football League. Now 240 pounds, 30 pounds heavier than he was in high school, he was cut by the Rage in training camp.
“He didn’t look that good,” Rage coach Mike Goodpaster said. “I told him I thought he was lazy and he asked for another chance and after that, it was like a switch was flipped. We get to our first preseason game and he was like a bowling ball rolling downfield. There were guys jumping out of the way instead of tackling him.”
Casey was one of the league leaders in rushing, incuding a 175-yard effort in a defeat of the Indianapolis Enforcers.
“The guy still has NFL talent,” said Goodpaster. “He’s strong as heck. He’s got speed and he’s huge.”
Despite those accolades, Goodpaster said Casey was not asked back to the team (now the Owensboro Rage) this year, citing personal issues.
“At this level, you get a lot of guys with NFL talent, but something is holding them back,” Goodpaster said.
Casey says he tries not to look back on what might have been.
“It took my heart and threw it on the ground to see Adrian Peterson to be playing football and knowing I should be there too,” Casey said. “If I had an opportunity, I would blow the door wide open.”
He said he counsels the players he coaches about the importance of concentrating on school.
“What comes first are your academics,” Casey said. “Sports are second. If I had gone to a university, it would be a different story. I was kind of passed along in high school, patted on the head. If I can grab ahold of one kid, two kids, three kids, I’m going to let them know their grades come first.”
Follow Jim Halley on Twitter @jimhalley.