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Sapp was three-sport threat in Apopka

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Published:   |   Updated: August 2, 2013 at 08:32 AM

In Warren Sapp's junior season at Apopka High School, he had two touchdown receptions, twice beating Lake Brantley defensive player Jason Varitek, who became a catcher with the Boston Red Sox. Sapp also competed against Orlando Dr. Phillips safety Johnny Damon, another future MLB All-Star. On a pass play, they collided. Sapp got the reception. Damon got a concussion.

Making headlines

After the opening game of Sapp's senior season at Apopka, the Orlando Sentinel described his performance with this headline: "Sapp Attack!" Against Lake Brantley, he had three catches for 108 yards and one touchdown. On defense, he added 10 tackles, one interception and a forced fumble. The Apopka Chief described Sapp as "a one-man doomsday machine" who "tackled anything near the ball."

Helping hand

After Apopka captured the school's first state football title in 2001, Sapp bought 80 championship rings for the players and coaches. "The rings are on me as long as I get a size-14," Sapp proclaimed to the coaching staff. A self-described "Blue Darter for life," Sapp also purchased a new scoreboard for Apopka's Roger Williams Field.

Eat to win

Sapp's sister, Melissa, said they grew up on "these things called 'Freeze Push-Up Pops.' Like iced Kool-Aid. They were so popular, my mom started selling them. But Warren ate more than we sold." Then there was a certain all-you-can-eat buffet. "He was up there four or five times and I hadn't even made it up there for the first time. And Mom would say, 'Don't eat another bite. You'll be sick as a dog. You're not hungry. You're just eating it because you see it.'"

Mom had her doubts

Sapp's mother never initially thought she had a son capable of reaching the Hall of Fame - or even becoming a respectable athlete. "He was a nice, mannerable fat boy," Annie Roberts said. "I was scared because he was so clumsy. If he was going out the door, he might trip and fall. He wasn't picking up his feet like he should. I thought he would hurt himself by being so big and falling down. That's why I didn't want him to play sports."

The catch

The most memorable play of Sapp's Apopka High football career was not a tackle or a sack. It was a one-handed catch. Trailing by a touchdown against Orlando Evans High, the big rival, Apopka faced third-and-long in the fourth quarter. A play was called for Sapp, the tight end.

"It was one of the greatest catches I've seen anyone make - ever," said Chip Gierke, Sapp's head coach at Apopka. "It was your typical seam route over the middle, about 30 yards down the field. He's going to look it in over his inside shoulder. But the ball floats back over his outside shoulder.

"This big guy has enough ability to turn his body and make a one-handed catch with his left hand. It's still one of the most stunning plays I've ever seen in football."

Trash talking

The Warren Sapp everyone knew with the Bucs - the audacious, defiant, effusive personality with nonstop vocals - was the same at Apopka High School.

"Same guy, different package,'' said former Apopka quarterback Brett King, who later played shortstop at the University of South Florida. "Our packages and games weren't without a little drama now and then.

"I think that dynamic made him a great player in the NFL. You've got to be a little crazy to play big-time football. Maybe that's why I didn't take it further. But that was him. That was Warren. If you took that out of him, he wasn't the same player. He was fueled by it."

Higher calling

Sapp grew up as a church-goer - he was an usher at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church - although his enthusiasm for Sunday mornings was sometimes questioned by his older sister, Melissa.

"He didn't like church," she said. "He'd say, 'I go to school Monday through Friday. I play hard on Saturday. Why do I have to go to church on Sunday?' And I'd say, 'Because Mama's a Christian. That's how she has us do it. Get used to it.'

"Well, a year later, Warren's beating me getting dressed for church. I say, 'What happened to you?' He says, 'I love church now.' All of a sudden, he loves Sunday school, he's reading a verse a day. What?

"I finally say, 'What got you into church so much? Is there some girl there you like?' He goes, 'You mean besides Tracy?' Ah-hah! Then he looks at me and says, 'I love Tracy . but I love the Lord, too."

Sapp as ...hoops star?

Sapp will be remembered as one of Apopka's best all-time players . in basketball?

Believe it.

"He wasn't just a football guy out there playing basketball . he was a basketball player," said Eddie Jenkins, an Apopka assistant during Sapp's senior season of 1990-91, prior to his 17-year stint as the program's head coach.

Sapp averaged 18.3 points and 9.1 rebounds as a senior. Sapp's first step was "exceptionally quick" and "nobody could deal with him inside," Jenkins said.

"He could catch it, turn and dunk it and he did a good job on defense, even though he was always guarding somebody bigger than him," Jenkins said. "He played the 'five' (center), but I think he could've played any position. If he would've been 6-foot-6, I give him a great chance at playing major college basketball."

The great debate

Even as a child, Sapp knew his sports - and wasn't afraid to show it.

"You'd listen to him talk and it would seem funny, but he was dead serious," said Sapp's first cousin, TyJuan Jones, who grew up with him in Plymouth. "He might seem overbearing, but he knew what he was talking about.

"We were 6 or 7, but he knew everything about football. He knew every player, the coaches, the history, how many yards they gained. He would argue with the oldest person about athletes. He would get very emotional. I don't know where he got the information, but whatever there was to know, he knew it.

"I was the smart aleck, the bookworm. I was the cousin who got on his nerves by correcting his English. He would beat me up in return."

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