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The 25 all-time greatest football players from Charleston area

Ninety-nine years ago, Charleston High School defeated Gaffney to become the first team from the area to win a state football championship.

From 1920-22, Charleston High won three straight state titles and established a tradition of excellence on the gridiron. Over the next century, the Charleston area produced hall of fame players at the NFL and collegiate levels.

The list of great football players from the Lowcountry is a long one. With the help of current and former high school coaches, and sportswriters who covered many of them, we compiled a list of the 25 greatest players of all time.

The criteria included accomplishments in high school, college and professional football. It is difficult to compare players from different eras, and the process included spirited debate among our panel before we put the finishing touches on The Post and Courier’s Top 25 all-time greatest football players from the Lowcountry.

1. Art Shell

School: Bonds-Wilson

Years: 1961-64

Art Shell at Maryland Eastern Shore

Art Shell played college football at Maryland State, which became Maryland Eastern Shore. Shell was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Provided/Maryland Eastern Shore.

Position: Lineman

Why Shell made the List: Art Shell might be the most decorated athlete in Charleston history. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection with the Oakland Raiders. Shell played 15 seasons in the NFL and helped lead the Raiders to two Super Bowl titles (1976, 1980). The Sporting News ranked him 55th on their list of the best NFL players of the 20th century. Shell was also the first black head coach in the NFL (Oakland). At Bonds-Wilson High School, Shell was one of the top athletes in South Carolina, earning all-state honors in football and basketball. 

2. A.J. Green

School: Summerville

Years: 2005-08

A.J. Green gives back to Georgia (copy)

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. AP Photo/Al Behrman

Position: Wide receiver

Why Green made the List: Of all the players that legendary coach John McKissick had during his six decades at Summerville High, A.J. Green was arguably the most talented. Green was a four-time Associated Press all-state selection. He finished his high school career with 279 receptions for 5,373 yards and 53 TDs, good at the time for fourth on the national list. After an All-SEC career at Georgia, Green has spent the last eight seasons in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals, where he has 602 receptions for 8,907 yards and 63 TDs.

3. Courtney Brown

Courtney Brown

Former Macedonia star Courtney Brown was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.

School: Macedonia

Years: 1993-96

Position: Defensive Line/Tight End

Why Brown made the List: If not for a series of knee injuries, Courtney Brown might be getting his speech ready for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Before the emergence of recruiting websites, Brown was one of the top-ranked defensive players in the 1996 recruiting class and a first-team USA Today All-American. At Penn State, he finished his career as the NCAA’s all-time leader in sacks (33) and tackles for loss (70). He was the 1999 Big Ten defensive player of the year and a first-team All-American. In 1999, he was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He played in only 61 NFL games with Cleveland and Denver, recording 19 sacks before retiring in 2007.

4. Carlos Dunlap

School: Fort Dorchester

Carlos Dunlap: Fort Dorchester

Former Fort Dorchester defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap plays for the Cincinnati Bengals. File/Staff

Years: 2004-07

Position: Defensive lineman

Why Dunlap made the List: Carlos Dunlap was a freak athlete. At 6-6 and 270 pounds, he returned kickoffs at Fort Dorchester. During his senior season, Dunlap had 126 tackles with 38 tackles for loss and 19 quarterback sacks. Dunlap played three seasons at Florida and finished with 84 tackles, 19 sacks and 26 tackles for loss. He was the 2009 BCS National Championship Game defensive MVP. Dunlap and A.J. Green are teammates with the Cincinnati Bengals. In 134 NFL games, Dunlap has 72½ sacks.

5. Joe Hamilton

School: Macedonia

Years: 1992-95

Joe Hamilton, Macedonia

Former Macedonia High School standout Joe Hamilton was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. File/Staff.

Position: Quarterback

Why Hamilton made the List: Joe Hamilton started at quarterback as a freshman and finished his career with more than 6,000 passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards. He led the Foxes to an undefeated regular season during his senior year. Hamilton went to Georgia Tech where he set the ACC record for total offense with 10,640 yards. He threw 65 TD passes and accounted for 83 total TDs during his career. He finished as the runner-up for the 1999 Heisman Trophy and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014. Though Hamilton appeared in only one NFL game, he led the Orlando Predators to the Arena Bowl title game in 2006.

6. Harold Green

Harold Green

Former South Carolina football player Harold Green is a Stratford High School alum. Brad Nettles/ 

School: Stratford

Years: 1984-86

Position: Running back

Why Green made the List: Harold Green was The Post and Courier’s All-Lowcountry offensive player of the year in 1986 after rushing for more than 2,300 yards and scoring 26 TDs his senior season. Green went on to play at South Carolina and was a second-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1990. Green played nine seasons in the NFL, rushing for 4,365 yards and making the Pro Bowl in 1992.

7. Robert Porcher

School: Cainhoy

Years: 1986-88

Robert Porcher

Former Cainhoy High School defensive lineman Robert Porcher. File/AP.

Position: Defensive lineman

Why Porcher made the List: Robert Porcher was a two-way player for tiny Cainhoy High School and eventually signed with S.C. State. He was a first-round draft pick by the Detroit Lions. He spent all 12 seasons with the Lions, finishing with a team-record 95½ sacks in his NFL career.

8. Perry Cuda

School: Summerville

Years: 1977-80

Perry Cuda

Former Summerville quarterback Perry Cuda and former Summerville head coach John McKissick. File/Staff.

Position: Quarterback

Why Cuda made the List: Perry Cuda led the Green Wave to back-to-back state titles in 1978 and 1979. Summerville won 41 straight games and Cuda was 52-3 as a starting quarterback. Cuda was a Parade All-American and signed with head coach Bear Bryant and Alabama. He eventually left Alabama and finished his career at Elon.

9. Norman Hand

Norman Hand

Former Walterboro High School tight end/defensive end Norman Hand. File/AP. 

School: Walterboro

Years: 1988-90

Position: Defensive line/tight end

Why Hand made the List: At 6-3 and 275 pounds, Norman Hand had the speed, agility and hands of a wide receiver. His senior year, he caught 25 passes for 526 yards and 5 TDs, and had 14 tackles for loss and nine quarterback sacks. After a stint in junior college, Hand signed with Mississippi and played nine seasons in the NFL. In 115 games, he had 22½ sacks and 30 tackles for loss in the NFL. Hand died in 2010.

10. Dakereon Joyner

School: Fort Dorchester

Years: 2014-17

Dakereon Joyner fort dorchester

Fort Dorchester quarterback Dakereon Joyner was named Mr. Football for the state of South Carolina after his senior season with the Patriots. (Michael Pronzato/Staff)

Position: Quarterback

Why Joyner made the List: Dakereon Joyner won the 2017 Mr. Football Award in South Carolina. For his career, Joyner threw for 9,745 yards and rushed for 3,324 yards. He accounted for a combined 157 touchdowns. He helped lead the Patriots to a state title in 2015 as a sophomore. Joyner is a redshirt freshman at South Carolina.

11. Robert Quinn

School: Fort Dorchester

Years: 2005-2008

Mighty Quinn Former Fort Dorchester standout Robert Quinn looks to build upon breakout season of NFC-leading 19 sacks

Former Fort Dorchester High School defensive lineman Robert Quinn was the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year after recording 19 sacks. File/AP

Position: Linebacker/defensive end

Why Quinn made the List: Despite missing the majority of his senior season with a brain tumor, Quinn had 54 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 8 quarterback sacks. Quinn signed with North Carolina. St. Louis selected him with the 14th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He was the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year after recording 19 sacks. A two-time Pro Bowl pick, Quinn is playing for the Dallas Cowboys.

12. Marty Crosby

School: James Island

Years: 1970-73

Position: Quarterback

Why Crosby made the List: Before the spread offenses became the norm in high school and college, Marty Crosby was a touchdown throwing machine. Crosby finished his career at James Island with more than 7,000 passing yards and 87 TD passes, which ranked seventh nationally until the early 1990s. Crosby signed with Florida State, but finished his college career at The Citadel.

13. Zola Davis

School: Burke

Years: 1992-94

Zola Davis in USC's 2014 Hall of Fame class

Burke High School graduate Zola Davis Sr. caught 17 touchdown passes at South Carolina. File/Staff.

Position: Wide receiver/defensive back

Why Davis made the List: Zola Davis was the nation’s No. 1-ranked wide receiver by SuperPrep and Blue Chip Magazine in his senior season. He finished with 41 receptions for 1,193 yards and 16 TDs and led the state with nine interceptions. Davis played at South Carolina and finished his career as USC’s second all-time leading receiver with 164 catches for 2,354 yards and 17 TDs. He played in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns.

14. Bruce Ellington

Berkeley Wins State Championship

Former Berkeley star Bruce Ellington led the Stags to a state title in 2009. File/Staff

School: Berkeley

Years: 2007-09.

Position: Quarterback

Why Ellington made the List: A two-sport star in high school, Ellington led Berkeley to a state football title, scoring four TDs against Northwestern in the 2009 championship game. He played basketball and football at South Carolina. Ellington finished his career at USC with 106 career receptions for 1,586 yards and 16 TDs. A fourth-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers, Ellington has played five seasons in the NFL with four different teams.

15. Roddy White

School: James Island

Years: 1999-2001

Roddy White offers advice to fantasy football owners

Former James Island High School wide receiver Roddy White will be inducted into Atlanta Falcons 'Ring of Fame' this season. File/AP.

Position: Wide receiver

Why White made the List: Roddy White was a four-sport athlete with the Trojans — football, wrestling, soccer and baseball. A Shrine Bowl pick his senior year, White caught 62 passes for 1,251 yards and 22 TDs. He played at UAB before becoming a first-round draft pick in 2005 by the Atlanta Falcons. He was a four-time Pro Bowl selection, finishing his career with 808 receptions for 10,863 yards and 63 TDs. White retired in 2016 and will be inducted into the Falcons ‘Ring of Honor' in December.

16. Dexter Coakley

School: Wando

Years: 1989-91

Dexter Coakley

Former Wando High School star Dexter Coakely was a two-time Division I-AA national defensive player of the year. File/Staff.

Position: Linebacker

Why Coakley made the List: Dexter Coakley was a tackling machine at every level he played. He had 295 tackles over his final two seasons at Wando. Coakley was a two-time national Division I-AA defensive player of the year at Appalachian State, where he is still the school's all-time leading tackler. He played 10 seasons in the NFL and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection.

17. Kevin Long

kevin long

Summerville lineman Kevin Long. File/Staff

School: Summerville

Years: 1991-93

Position: Offensive lineman

Why Long made the List: An excellent athlete with outstanding feet, Long was The Post and Courier’s Lineman of the Year in 1993. He played at Florida State and was a two-time All-ACC first team pick. Long played four seasons in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans, starting 35 games.

18. Darwin Walker

School: Walterboro

Years: 1992-95

Darwin Walker

Former Walterboro High School defensive lineman Darwin Walker played 8 seasons in the NFL. File/AP

Position: Defensive lineman

Why Walker made the List: A dominant player along the defensive line, Walker also set a state record in the shot put with a toss of 63 feet. Walker signed with N.C. State to play alongside his brother James, but transferred to Tennessee and won a national title with the Vols in 1998. Walker played 8 seasons in the NFL, mostly with the Philadelphia Eagles.

19. Pierson Prioleau

A Dream Come True

New Orleans Saints safety Pierson Prioleau, a former Macedonia High School star, has played 11 seasons in the NFL and been with five different teams.

School: Macedonia

Years: 1992-95

Position: Defensive back

Why Prioleau made the List: Pierson Prioleau played in the shadow of fellow Macedonia teammates Joe Hamilton and Courtney Brown, but ended up having the longest and most productive NFL career. After playing at Virginia Tech, Prioleau played 13 seasons in the NFL with five different teams, winning a Super Bowl title with New Orleans in 2010.

20. Keith Jennings

School: Summerville

Years: 1982-84

Position: Wide receiver

Why Jennings made the List: In the run-oriented offense at Summerville, Jennings caught 85 passes for 1,760 yards and 17 TDs during his final two seasons with the Green Wave. He caught 78 passes as a tight end/wide receiver with Clemson before playing 8 seasons in the NFL with Dallas and Chicago.

21. Ryan Stewart

Ryan Stewart

Former Berkeley High School defensive back Ryan Stewart hosted the popular '2 Live Stews' radio show based in Atlanta. (photo provided by Georgia Tech).

School: Berkeley

Years: 1988-90

Position: Defensive back

Why Stewart made the List: Ryan Stewart was one of the top defensive backs in the 1990 recruiting class. After an All-ACC career at Georgia Tech, Stewart played five seasons in the NFL with the Detroit Lions. He later hosted a popular-radio show in Atlanta "2 Live Stews."

22. Clay Matthews Sr.

Dementia hasn't sacked NFL patriarch's humor

The late Clay Matthews Sr. was named to the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame. File/Staff

School: Charleston

Years: 1943-45

Position: Lineman

Why Matthews made the List: Clay Matthews was a standout football player in his own right at Charleston High School, but is probably more famous for being the father of NFL greats Bruce Matthews and Clay Matthews Jr. He was a standout player at Georgia Tech and then played four seasons in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers.

23. Tramel Terry

DB Terry leaving Georgia

Former Goose Creek star Tramel Terry won South Carolina's Mr. Football Award in 2012. File/Staff.

School: Goose Creek

Years: 2010-12

Position: Wide receiver/running back

Why Terry made the List: Tramel Terry was named Mr. Football in 2012 as a triple-threat — receiver, running back and return man. He rushed for 841 yards and had 818 yards in receptions and scored 25 touchdowns. He finished with nearly 5,000 all-purpose yards in his career. He helped lead Goose Creek to a state title in 2011 before signing with Georgia and finishing his college career at Jacksonville State after a series of knee injuries.

24. Curt Brown

School: St. John’s

Years: 1987-89

Position: Wide receiver

Why Brown made the List: Curt Brown finished his high school career with more than 2,000 receiving yards and 33 TDs with the Islanders. He was a Shrine Bowl pick his senior season. Brown signed with Alabama helping lead the Tide to a national title in 1992 and finishing his career with 101 receptions.

25. Jacob Park

School: Stratford

Years: 2011-2013

Park not sitting still

Stratford quarterback Jacob Park was The Post and Courier's Player of the Year in 2013. Grace Beahm/Staff

Position: Quarterback

Why Park made the List: Jacob Park was named Mr. Football in 2013 after throwing for more then 3,600 yards and 34 TDs during his senior season. Park finished his high school career with more than 7,000 passing yards and 60 TDs. Park signed with Georgia but eventually transferred to Iowa State, where he played in 14 games and threw for 2,927 yards and 21 TDs before leaving the program for personal reasons.

Best of the Rest

Andre Ellington, RB, Berkeley

Charlie Brown, WR, St. John’s

Mike Dingle, RB, Berkeley

Jack Douglas, QB, Garrett

Doug “Mackey” Goodwin, RB, Burke

Stanford Jennings, RB, Summerville

Travis Jervey, RB, Wando

Freddy Johnson, RB, Goose Creek

Frank Magwood, DB, St. John's

Byron Maxwell, DB, Fort Dorchester

Langston Moore, DL, James Island

Ovie Mughelli, RB, Porter-Gaud

Jamar Nesbitt, OL, Summerville

Freddie Renken, WR, Porter-Gaud

James Robinson, DL, St. John's

Brandon Shell, OL, Goose Creek

High School Football: Can First Baptist keep rolling in SCISA without Michel Dukes?

John Simpson, OL, Fort Dorchester

Wayne Simmons, LB, Hilton Head

Moe Thompson, DL, Stratford

Rusty Williams, RB, Berkeley

Rod Wilson, LB, Cross

Reach Andrew Miller at 843-937-5599. Follow him on Twitter @APMILLER_PandC

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