North Carolina to the NFL Part 8: North Carolina has a handful of natives who didn’t attend high school in the state before making it to the NFL. Here’s a look at some of them.
North Carolina to the NFL
(This is the eighth in a series on the North Carolina products who went on to play in the NFL. Here are the previous stories and links to those stories:)
Part 1: The first NFL player came in 1921 and he came from the state’s winningest high school program. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/north-carolina-to-the-nfl-part-1-the-first-nfl-player-came-in-1921-and-he-came-from-the-states-winningest-high-school-program/
Part 2: North Carolina to the NFL Part 2: Jim Thorpe is not a N.C. native but he spent time in the state and later recruited N.C. natives for his NFL team. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/north-carolina-to-the-nfl-part-2-jim-thorpe-is-not-a-n-c-native-but-he-spent-time-in-the-state-and-later-recruited-n-c-natives-for-his-nfl-team/
Part 3: What do the numbers say about North Carolina high school products in the NFL? How many have there been? And who played the longest in the NFL? Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/north-carolina-to-the-nfl-part-3-what-do-the-numbers-say-about-north-carolina-high-school-products-in-the-nfl-how-many-have-there-been-and-who-played-the-longest-in-the-nfl/
Part 4: What North Carolina high schools and counties have produced the most eventual NFL players? Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/north-carolina-to-the-nfl-part-4-what-north-carolina-high-schools-and-counties-have-produced-the-most-eventual-nfl-players/
Part 5: Which colleges have benefitted the most from North Carolina high school products who eventually played in the NFL? Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/north-carolina-to-the-nfl-part-5-which-colleges-have-benefitted-the-most-from-north-carolina-high-school-products-who-eventually-played-in-the-nfl/
Part 6: How many NFL first round picks have been produced by North Carolina high schools? Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/north-carolina-to-the-nfl-part-6-how-many-nfl-first-round-picks-have-been-produced-by-north-carolina-high-schools/
Part 7: How did eventual NFL players do when they played for North Carolina high schools? Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/north-carolina-to-the-nfl-part-7-how-did-eventual-nfl-players-do-when-they-played-for-north-carolina-high-schools/
By Richard Walker
Nearly 100 North Carolina natives who didn’t play for North Carolina high schools have played in the NFL.
They include three eventual Pro Football Hall of Famers, one of the game’s most feared hitters of the 1970s, 12 other longtime NFL veterans, the son of a N.C. high school NFL player, a future Carolina Panthers standout running back, a current NFL starting quarterback and an eventual NFL and college football broadcaster.
The three Hall of Famers were Dwight Stephenson (1998 induction), Bruce Matthews (2007) and Chris Hanburger (2011) – with two of them attending the same high school in nearby Virginia.
Stephenson, born in Murfreesboro, attended Hampton, Va., High before playing for back-to-back Alabama college national title teams in 1978 and 1979 then played eight seasons for the Miami Dolphins. A five-time Pro Bowl center, Stephenson also was chosen to the NFL’s 100th Anniversary All-Time team in 2019.
Matthews, born in Raleigh, attended Arcadia, Cal., High before playing at Southern California and then playing 19 seasons for the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans. A 14-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman, Matthews’ is part of a three-generation NFL family that includes his father Clay, Sr., brother Clay, Jr., sons Kevin and Jake and nephew Clay III.
Hanburger, born in Raleigh, attended Hampton, Va., High before playing at the University of North Carolina and then spending his entire 14-year career as a nine-time Pro Bowl linebacker with the Washington Redskins.
Jack Tatum, born in Cherryville, attended Passaic, N.J., High before playing at Ohio State and then becoming one of the NFL’s most feared hard-hitting safeties in a 10-year NFL career with the Oakland Raiders (1971-79) and Houston Oilers (1980).
Other veteran NFL players were Ed Cooke (1958-67), Bill Mathis (1960-69), Bennie McRae (1962-71), Fred McNeill (1974-85), Garry Cobb (1979-89), Bruce Davis (1979-89), Mike Johnson (1986-95), Adrian Murrell (1993-2003), Bryant Westbrook (1997-2002), Stephen Bowen (2006-15), James Anderson (2006-15) and Cortland Finnegan (2006-15)
Cooke was born in Pilot Mountain before playing high school football in Grandy, Va.
Mathis was born in Rocky Mount before playing high school football in Manchester, Ga.
McRae was born in Aberdeen before playing high school football in Newport News, Va.
McNeill was born in Durham before playing high school football in Baldwin Park, Cal.
Cobb was born in Carthage before playing high school football in Stamford, Conn.
Davis was born in Rutherfordton before playing high school football in Lackey, Md.
Johnson was born in Southport before playing high school football in Hyattsville, Md.
Murrell was born in Fayetteville before playing high school football in Wahiawa, Hawaii.
Westbrook was born in Charlotte before playing high school football in El Camino, Cal.
Bowen was born in Holly Ridge before playing high school football in Half Hollow Hills, N.Y.
Anderson was born in Roanoke Rapids before playing high school football in Deep Creek, Va.
And Finnegan was born in Fayetteville before playing high school football in Milton, Fla.
Ray Agnew, Jr., the son of an eventual 11-year NFL veteran by the same name, was born in Winston-Salem before playing high school football in Creve Coeur, Mo., and one season in the NFL as a fullback.
Deshaun Foster was born in Charlotte and attended high school in Tustin, Cal., before returning to the city of his birth as a running back for the NFL Carolina Panthers. In his rookie season of 2003, Foster had memorable touchdown runs in the Panthers’ first NFC championship game and first Super Bowl appearances.
Current Indianapolis Colts starting quarterback Carson Wentz was born in Raleigh, then played high school football in Bismarck, N.D.; He enters the 2021 season with the Colts after five seasons and 68 starts for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Finally, current Atlanta Falcons radio network analyst and longtime college football announcer David Archer was born in Fayetteville before playing high school football in Soda Springs, Idaho. An eight-year NFL veteran who also played in the World League of American Football and Canadian Football League, Archer has been on the Falcons’ radio network since 2004 and has frequently done TV commentary for college football in the years since.