John Ehret High School/University of Miami/NFL
Billy North will never forget the game. It was the first round of the 1994 high school state playoffs and his John Ehret football team was taking on a powerful South Lafourche team in Galliano. And a promising sophomore named Reggie Wayne simply took over the game. Wayne had three touchdown catches to lead the Patriots to a 28-14 upset.
“They weren’t just touchdown catches either,” North remembered. “They were phenomenal catches. All I could think was, ‘how the heck did I not have this kid on varsity when he was a freshman?’ Three years later, he had broken every one of our receiving records.
“Even when I saw Reggie in middle school, I knew he was a leader,” North continued. “He wasn’t vocal, but you could see that his teammates knew who was in charge. I can’t say enough about a wonderful young man, from a wonderful Christian family, he is. We gave him the opportunity to be good, but his background and determination and wherewithal is what allowed him to succeed at the highest level.”
While Wayne rewrote John Ehret’s receiving records, he rarely left the field during his high school career. He played free safety on defense, he returned every kick and he even punted for the Patriots as he earned all-state honors in his final two seasons.
A highly sought-after recruit, Wayne ended up at the University of Miami. And he immediately became a key player for the powerhouse Hurricanes. As a freshman in 1997, he led the Hurricanes with 640 yards on 48 catches (school freshman record) and was named BIG EAST Rookie of the Year and a Sporting News Freshman All American. In 1998, he missed two games with a torn ACL, but still led Miami with 42 receptions and was second with 629 receiving yards. In 1999, he caught 40 passes for 486 yards and four touchdowns.
In Miami’s 2000 season, the senior led the team with 755 yards receiving (17.6 yards per catch) on 43 receptions with 10 touchdowns (tied for second most all-time behind Michael Irvin’s record of 11 in 1986) as the Canes posted an 11-1 record with a victory in the Sugar Bowl.
Wayne is the school career leader in total receptions with 173, a close second to Santana Moss in yards receiving (2,510) and is tied for third in career touchdown catches with 20. He holds the school record for consecutive games with a reception at 36 straight games.
Following his sensational college career, Wayne was a first-round pick (No. 30 overall) in the 2001 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. He spent all 14 of his NFL seasons in Indianapolis and was the 15th player inducted into the Colts Ring of Honor in 2018. Wayne is second all-time (to Pro Football Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison) in Colts’ franchise history in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Wayne and Harrison were one of the NFL’s best wide receiver tandems in league history and helped the team to victory in Super Bowl XLI at Dolphin Stadium in 2007.
“Reggie Wayne was a great teammate, and he was a tough receiver, fearless across the middle, great catcher of the ball with his hands; it was a privilege to play with him,” said Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. “I always felt that we had that Louisiana bond and that translated to our on-the-field connection. He was an extremely hard worker and that work-ethic paid great dividends for him, and for me, because of all the timing we were able to develop. He was just a guy that you wanted in the huddle with you and I’m always proud to be able to call Reggie Wayne a teammate and a friend.”
Wayne led the NFL with 1,510 receiving yards in 2007. He finished his career tenth all-time in the NFL in receptions (1,070) and receiving yards (14,345) and also had 82 TD catches; he was named to six Pro Bowls and was first team all-pro in 2010.
“As a high school coach, you never think a player will be in the NFL, much less a Hall of Fame candidate,” North said. “But Reggie had an aura of working hard, he did the right things for the right reasons, and he had leadership qualities that you can’t teach. I knew he could be very successful at a high level and I’m so very pleased that he made the right decisions to achieve so much success.”
The John Ehret product finished his career having ranked in the top ten seven times in receiving yards, five times in receiving yards per game and four times in receiving touchdowns.
“Even with all of his success, he never forgot us,” North said. “He would come back in the off-season and run routes with our players. He would talk to them about life and making good decisions. He certainly understands what it means to give back.”
MORE READING: “Wayne Inducted into Nola Sports Hall of Fame”, Nola.com, July 24, 2021