By now we've all seen the banter that started last week between Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and Miami Heat guard LeBron James regarding LBJ spending his free time in Seattle while locked out by the NBA. It's not going to happen, but it does make me wonder what he would have looked like eight years ago in Scarlet and Gray.
I'm not here to debate whether James would have come to Ohio State to play football. He wouldn't, and didn't. Obviously. He was the #1 ranked high school basketball player in Ohio from the moment he received a ranking as a sophomore at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary HS until he dropped 25-9-6 and 4 steals in his 2003 NBA debut against the Sacramento Kings at the age of eighteen. He was always going to play basketball, and did.
Many in Ohio hate the man now after his "Decision" to leave Cleveland but he was still the Golden Child in 2003. The same people who jeer him now would have been cheering out of their minds each fall Saturday had he been in Scarlet and Gray.
First we have to look at the physical tools the eighteen-year-old version of LeBron James had to work with. During his senior year at Akron SVSM his basketball recruiting profile at Rivals had him listed at 6'6" 225 pounds. That's not "prototype" anything in college football, but James was a first-team all-state WR for Akron SVSM his sophomore and junior seasons and sat out his senior season after breaking his left wrist in an AAU basketball game before football started. His junior year he recorded 61 catches for 1,245 yards and 16 touchdowns after posting 41 catches for 820 yards and 7 touchdowns his sophomore year.
The jury in most circles rules in favor of playing James as a Tight End (by comparison Ohio State's starting TE in 2003 was senior Ben Hartsock at 6'4" 264 pounds) but I'm not sure it matters. James was freakishly athletic for his age and likely could have succeeded at TE or WR on the highest level of amateur football. Heck at 6'6" 225lb at age eighteen his size would overmatch many tight ends and nearly every WR in today's NFL with the exception of Detroit's Calvin Johnson, who is 6'5" 235 pounds.
LeBron was passing the eye test in 2003.
Unfortunately the, "can he play?" answers are left to our imagination, but some knowledgable names have put their two cents in and the opinions are mixed. Mark Murphy, who had an 11-year career at safety for Green Bay that landed him in the Packers' Hall of Fame thinks he could have definitely played and had success:
"I've been around a lot of great receivers. I tell people that I rate my top receivers -- coaching, playing or watching -- as James Lofton, Jerry Rice, Steve Largent and LeBron James. People laugh at me, but it's true. The kid had everything you could want. I felt like that was one kid that could have gone from high school to the NFL and played."
Bill Parcells isn't so quick to agree (although he was referencing the thought of the 2009 LeBron James playing in the NFL, not the plans of the Akron SVSM LeBron James):
"I would tell him I think he needs to lay down on the couch and have some warm milk and listen to some soft music. Football's not something he needs to do."
The recently retired Randy Moss, who spent 13 years terrorizing NFL defensive backs, is pretty sure LeBron could handle the rigors of the sport:
"I think LeBron could come in and do better than Antonio Gates. LeBron James is the athlete that comes around every so often. The things that he does are something we haven't seen before.…It's just very rare for athletes to be able to do the things that he does to entertain and wow us night in and night out."
What about J.D. Brookheart who coached the aforementioned Gates and current NFL WR Domenik Hixon at Akron, as well as Larry Fitzgerald and Antonio Bryant at Pitt?
"From my perspective, the best athletes in the world play in the NBA. Look at what Gates did. He was a pretty good basketball player athletically, but LeBron's world class. It's not very hard to tell at all how good of a football player LeBron would be. Had he pursued it, I think he'd be an All-Pro receiver. With that body and skills that he has, I think even if he wasn't a 4.4 or 4.5 speed guy -- and I'm not so certain he wouldn't be that -- he would pose absolutely unwinnable matchups out there."
I'm not sure if that's coach-speak or fan-speak coming from Brookheart, but it's difficult to argue regardless. The whole Carroll-James conversation is a joke. It's an attention grab and it's been successful as just that. Pete Carroll loves attention and LeBron James, well, loves attention. But it's not reality and it's not going to be.
We can't turn back back the clock and see LeBron in the Horseshoe either, but what would happen if we could?
In 2003 we would have seen senior QB Craig Krentzel, fresh off a National Championship, playing pitch and catch with seniors Michael Jenkins and Bam Childress, sophomore Santonio Holmes, and true freshman LeBron James. I would love to know what role James could have played as a freshman. Could you really keep someone that skilled and athletic off the field? I can't see it.
2005 would have been even better...
How about junior QB (and future Heisman Trophy winner) Troy Smith having seniors Santonio Holmes and Roy Hall, juniors LeBron James and Anthony Gonzalez, as well as sophomore speedster Ted Ginn, Jr. to throw too? Heck 2005 was already a sight to see without the thought of LeBron James but when you add him into the equation I think it could have been even more special. Unfortunately we'll never know.