Players make the transition from high school to stardom

He has been a Super Bowl MVP, and now Forest Park native Hines Ward is a dancing champ. On Tuesday, Ward, who is known for his skills as a wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, won the made-for-TV show "Dancing With The Stars" competition.

Ward has come alone way from his days as an all-state quarterback for the Forest Park Panthers. He is now considered one of the top receivers in the league.

It wasn't that long ago that Ward walked the halls at Forest Park High like the rest of the student body. Now, he is counted among the mega sports superstars.

But I also remember the pre-NFL Ward.

It was about the beginning of his senior year, that I did my first interview with Ward, who was coming off an all-state performing season for the Panthers. We sat in the cramped, dim Forest Park locker room in 1993 on a hot mid-summer day.

I interviewed him about his extraordinary talent and how much he was looking forward to the upcoming season.

In 24 years of being a sports writer, a large part covering high schools, I've had the opportunity to see, cover and interview a lot of players before they hit the big stage.

It is amazing looking back on some of the players that I've written about before they became pros.

There were Dwight Howard and Cameron Newton before they became the top picks in the NBA and NFL draft, respectively. There has been countless others.

This is the fun part of the sportswriter's job, seeing the young players turn into future superstars.

Now, a new batch of athletes are starting to make their marks.

It seems everyday that you get a tweet or Facebook posting that a college has offered a scholarship to one of the numerous talented athletes in the area.

North Clayton basketball player Marcus Hunt has become a household name among college coaches. He holds about 18 college offers, and that list is surely to grow by the end of the summer.

On Wednesday, Lovejoy standout defensive back Rico McWilliams received offer No. 16 when the University of Pittsburgh joined in on the recruiting process. He should expected a few more letters in the mail.

In a couple weeks, Luella shortstop Julius Gaines could join the professional ranks. Although he has signed a scholarship with Florida International University, Gaines is projected to be drafted by a major league team in June's amateur draft.

If the team and money is right, Gaines could fulfill his lifelong dream of playing pro baseball.

One day, some of these players might be the next mega sports star.

Derrick Mahone covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at dmahone@news-daily.com.