Not the tallest, not the fastest, not the strongest but, dadgummit, he knew how to win. It's a cliche, but it was true. Fifty years ago, Nick Saban led Monongah High School to West Virginia's Class A state championship in dominant fashion, leading the state in scoring offense and scoring defense.
In fact, Saban collected a 50-1-1 career record as Monongah's starting quarterback. He wasn't the most talented player on the team, but he was the smartest, the most determined, the Saban-est. As Alex Scarborough writes for ESPN, Saban called his own plays at quarterback -- which was not uncommon at the time -- but essentially ran his own practices, too.
(Head coach Earl) Keener would toss the shower room keys to team managers Walter Baranksy and John Baranski and tell them to lock up when everyone was done.
"If we didn't do a play right," teammate Kerry Marbury said, "we'd run it until it got dark, the same play over and over until we got it right."
"I used to get so ticked off," Baransky said of Saban delaying dinner by an hour or more. "Damn, I'm hungry!"
Successful as he was at the high school level, Saban's slight stature kept the bigger schools at bay. A rough equivalent of a 2- or 3-star recruit at the time, Saban got sniffs from Penn State and Michigan but did not get an offer from his preferred choice of West Virginia, so instead he wound up at Kent State.
From there, the rest is history: Saban moved from quarterback to defensive back in order to see the field then, graduated and ready to move on with his life, planned to go into the car dealership business until his college coach -- the future College Football Hall of Famer Don James -- convinced him to stick around as a graduate assistant while his wife, whom you know as Miss Terry, finished her degree.
And the greatest coaching career in college football history was born.