- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
They met as second-grade soccer teammates in Texas, then went on to play basketball, baseball and football together into high school.
Now, both Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw and new Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford are Los Angeles headliners.
Wednesday marked the start of the NFL’s new league year, the first day the blockbuster trade that brought Stafford from the Detroit Lions to the Rams in exchange for quarterback Jared Goff and two first-round draft picks could become official. Stafford is expected to be introduced by the Rams this week.
Kershaw and Stafford exchanged texts after the deal was made in January.
“He’s super excited to get over there, and said it’s exactly what he wanted,” Kershaw said Wednesday in a phone interview from Arizona. “So, I know he’s really fired up about getting started.”
Stafford, 33, and Kershaw, who turns 33 on Friday, have thrived since graduating from Highland Park High in 2006.
Kershaw was selected by the Dodgers with the No. 7 pick in the 2006 major league draft and has gone on to become an eight-time All-Star, three-time Cy Young Award winner, National League MVP and World Series champion.
Stafford was rated as the nation’s top quarterback in 2006 recruiting class, and starred at Georgia before the Lions made him the top pick in the 2009 NFL draft. Stafford has been regarded as one of the league’s top passers during 12 pro seasons, once making the Pro Bowl and three times leading the Lions into the playoffs.
Both have earned more than $200 million, according to spotrac.com, and for a time in 2017 each was the highest-paid player in his sport.
“It’s really funny looking back on it,” said Chris Olson, who grew up with Kershaw and Stafford and later played football at Texas Tech. “I had math class with the highest-paid NFL player at one point and the highest-paid MLB player. How did that happen?”
From the time they started playing together, Stafford and Kershaw were regarded as top athletes. In Highland Park, an affluent enclave near Dallas, several elementary schools fed into one middle school and then one high school. So the high school teams benefited from the early bonding.
“Clayton was a hell of an athlete — you name the sport he would dominate it — same with Matthew,” said John Dickenson, who played sports with both. “And two of the most humble guys you’d ever meet.
“They hate talking about themselves. It’s always about the team and giving glory to the other guys.”
Stafford and Kershaw were football teammates through ninth grade.
Strong-armed Stafford, a catcher and shortstop in baseball, was the quarterback. Kershaw had yet to hit a growth spurt that would eventually produce his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame, so he played on the offensive line.
“I was short and chunky,” Kershaw said.
On undefeated eight-grade middle school and high school freshman teams, Kershaw was the starting center, snapping the ball to Stafford, who filled out to 6-3 and 220 pounds.
“Clayton had great feet, but ultimately a super-smart kid and he could really connect the dots,” said Reagan Dailey, who started coaching Stafford and Kershaw as seventh graders and was the offensive line coach for the high school freshman team.
Kershaw was “scrappy” and “loved being in the dogpiles,” Olson said.
Until he didn’t.
Shortly after Kershaw’s only high school football season, Dailey said he was standing in the hallway when the left-hander approached him and said he was thinking about leaving the trenches behind to focus on baseball.
“And being a Texas high school football coach, where football is king,” Dailey recalled, laughing heartily, “I said, ‘Clayton, if you do that, that will be the worst decision you ever make in your life.’ ”
Kershaw said it was not a difficult choice.
“I loved playing football and I loved hanging out with the guys, but offensive line wasn’t my favorite thing in the world,” he said. “My skill set didn’t really suit for anything else, so I went to baseball.”
Paul Schaufele, who had shared playing time with Kershaw at center, eventually ascended to the starting role for the 2005 Highland Park team that Stafford led to the school’s first state championship since 1957.
“Clayton is very humble and a very good competitor,” Schaufele said. “I’m sure if he had kept playing, he would have done great. But obviously he had to, for good reason, focus on baseball.”
Dailey said he texted Kershaw a few years later after the Dodgers made him a first-round pick.
“I said, ‘Hey man, congrats. Super excited for you — but I still think you made a wrong decision,’ “ Dailey said, laughing.
Kershaw and Stafford, who stopped playing baseball after his sophomore year in high school to focus on football, both made the correct career choices, Dailey said.
“Both just phenomenal athletes, and phenomenal people,” he said.
Kershaw’s long journey to a World Series title finally ended last season, and Stafford texted congratulations.
“I’ve done the same throughout his career,” Kershaw said. “And I think it’s just fun to have somebody to root for. And I know he’s watching what I do, and I love watching him play.”
Kershaw said he and “a lot of my buddies back home” grew up Dallas Cowboys fans but turned into Lions fans whenever Stafford played.
“Now we’re all Rams fans,” he said.
Stafford performed well in Detroit despite playing in offenses that, except for Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson, were devoid of star-level talent. The Rams are banking on Stafford flourishing in coach Sean McVay’s system and leading them to a Super Bowl title.
Kershaw noted that he has been fortunate to play for Dodgers teams that have made 10 playoff appearances and “always had the opportunity to win.” Stafford could have a similar opportunity with the Rams.
“I’m just really excited that Matthew gets that chance now,” he said. “It’ll be really cool.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.