Thursday, August 11, 2016
Panthers receiver Ted Ginn Jr. was initially recruited to run track at Ohio State. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
By David Newton
August 9, 2016
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Jamaica's Usain Bolt and Ted Ginn Jr. of the United States are stride for stride as they approach the finish line in the finals of 200-meter dash at the 2016 Olympics from Rio. This is going to be close, folks.
And the gold medal goes to ...
Don't think that Ginn, who is entering his 10th season in the NFL and third with the Carolina Panthers, doesn't imagine that scenario.
During his senior year in high school, Ginn was a member of a squad that defeated a 4x100-meter relay team anchored by Bolt -- who is now the two-time defending Olympic champion in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. Ginn once beat Jason Richardson, who won the silver medal in the 110-meter hurdles during the 2012 Olympics in London.
A national champion in the 110-meter hurdles as a high school junior, Ginn initially was recruited to run track at Ohio State with the thought that he could qualify for the 2008 Olympics. He was clocked at 10.2 seconds in the 100 meters as a college freshman.
So yes, Ginn, 31, can't help but wonder if he could have been competing for a spot on the podium in Rio. He even showed up for a Tuesday interview wearing a navy blue track shirt with an American flag on the right sleeve.
"My Nike deal would be great," Ginn said with a laugh when asked if he could have competed. "Just watching it on TV right now, I kind of get goosebumps on certain races ... like the 4x400, the 400, 200, 110. That gives me goosebumps, because a lot of them guys are No. 1 guys we raced in high school."
Ginn gave up track to pursue a career in football at Ohio State. After his junior season, he was such a hot commodity that the Miami Dolphins selected him with the ninth overall pick of the 2007 draft.
Ginn's explosive speed, however, was negated by a tendency to drop passes. The Dolphins gave up on him after the 2009 season. After three mediocre years in San Francisco, so did the 49ers.
Ginn's best seasons have been in Carolina, under the tutelage of receivers coach Ricky Proehl. In 2013, Ginn caught five touchdown passes -- his career high at the time -- which earned him a big contract with the Arizona Cardinals. After a failed season in the desert, Ginn returned to Carolina to score a career-best 10 touchdowns during the Panthers' magical 2015 season.
"Getting with that guy and him reaching down inside of me and bringing out the things I was good at," Ginn said, describing his work with Proehl. "Without him ... I don't think all of us in that room can be who we are -- especially me."
Six months after playing in Super Bowl 50, Ginn can watch the Olympics without regrets that he gave up something special.
"Just to see them guys [I used to compete against] still going in their field and me still going in my field helps me out a lot," Ginn said.
Despite difficulties along the way, Ginn has outlasted superstar NFL players from his draft class. No. 2 pick Calvin Johnson and No. 12 pick Marshawn Lynch retired this past offseason.
Ginn is proud of his longevity. But more than anything, he is proud to finally be earning the respect he once had in track.
"That's the biggest thing out of the whole deal, being able to stand there and a guy look at your face and say, 'Oh, man! We've got Ted out here!'" Ginn said.
That doesn't mean Ginn doesn't sometimes fantasize about the time he beat Bolt, who is 16 months younger, in the 4x100 relays.
"He was the anchor, and I was the second leg," Ginn said. "I opened up and gave us that lead that he couldn't get back. So, you know, man, I've done run against the best of the best.
"I'm proud of my track career. If I wasn't going on the route I am as far as football, then I'd have some regrets about track, but I don't."
Ginn is still fast. He'll tell you he's the fastest member of the Panthers, although Damiere Byrd and Philly Brown might argue otherwise.
"And I will be next year, too," Ginn said.
Ginn know he's not fast enough to compete in the Rio Olympics, at least in his current football shape.
"If I trained two or three months on the hurdles, I could run them," he said with a smile. "But as far as training in the 110, 200 and 400, I'm kind of out of the picture right now."
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