TAMPA — Florida has long been known for producing talented high school athletes. But in the state's high school pantheon, there aren't many who can match Adrian McPherson.
"The kid is just a phenomenal athlete, extremely gifted," Storm coach Dave Ewart said.
In 2000, McPherson, who played quarterback and point guard at Bradenton Southeast High, became the first in state history to capture both Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball honors in the same season. He was so talented in both, it was never clear which he intended to pursue.
"He had so much ability," said Paul Maechtle, who coached McPherson in football at Southeast. "A lot of times he seemed to be able to do what he wanted. Whether it was score 50 points (in basketball) or throw for five touchdowns (in football)."
In fact, McPherson said basketball was where he always thought he'd end up. "I tell people all the time that I was a better basketball player," he said.
But Tampa Bay couldn't be happier he choose football. McPherson will pull on his familiar No. 5 jersey and make his Storm debut under center when Tampa Bay opens its season against Jacksonville at 7:30 tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Ewart officially named McPherson the starter Friday after a training camp battle with Shane Boyd.
"It was very, very close, and it's great that we have two quarterbacks with experience in here," Ewart said. "We haven't been consistent at the quarterback position since Brett Dietz left (after the 2010 season)."
McPherson appeared on his way to NFL fame after splitting time his freshman season at Florida State and starting the first four games of his sophomore year. He also briefly played on the basketball team.
"He was a Donovan McNabb-type player because he could throw and run it," Maechtle said. "I think he could have been one of those guys, absolutely."
But McPherson ran into legal troubles in Tallahassee and was dismissed from the team in 2002, and the can't-miss kid eventually pleaded "no contest" to theft and gambling charges.
"The honest-to-God's truth is when I look back on it I wouldn't change a thing," McPherson said. "I hate that it happened, but it changed me so much. I'm a good person who made a mistake."
McPherson joined the Arena Football League and was the 2004 rookie of the year with Indiana. He was drafted the following year by the NFL's Saints, but that opportunity was cut short when he was hit by a golf cart driven by a Tennessee mascot at halftime of a preseason game. McPherson, who injured his knee and was subsequently cut, has since sued the Titans for $20 million in damages, but the case is still tied up in court.
McPherson returned to the AFL from 2007-08, then spent the next five years as a backup for the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes. Now 29 and the father of a 3-year-old daughter, McPherson said he wants to get back on the field, and this opportunity so close to home made sense.
"I sat behind the greatest quarterback in CFL history (Anthony Calvillo) and I learned a lot," he said. "But this chance came up and I knew I was done being a backup. All I want to do is play football."