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As is commonplace in professional sports locker rooms, discussions about players' former high schools – their rankings, their histories, their alumni – often turn into hearty and healthy debates.
One occurred Thursday after Redskins practice, when recently added practice squad linebacker Ryan Delaire (photo below) began discussing the prominence of his school – Windsor High School in Conn. – in regards to its basketball program with defensive lineman Corey Crawford. Before the two barely started, nose tackle Terrance Knighton quickly joined the conversation to support Delaire.
He had the rare opportunity of coming to the aid of a fellow high school alum.
It's well known by now that Knighton and defensive lineman Chris Baker, childhood friends and teammates, attended Windsor High School, just north of Hartford, together, played basketball and then switched to football in their junior years. Delaire, who followed a nearly similar trajectory, now makes three Windsor grads in the same NFL locker room.
"It's really crazy because Connecticut is a small state," Delaire said. "Nobody comes out of there that really plays football. It's a state known for basketball, so I think it's really unique."
Following the state trend, Delaire played basketball for his first three years at Windsor. "Football never slipped my mind. Honestly, I never thought about it until my senior year," he said.
Eventually, the school's football coach approached him and asked if he would try out. The rest was history, a transition influenced by Knighton and Baker, who graduated several years before Delaire was a freshman and showed him how switching from basketball to football could be beneficial for him.
"Once they did it, it just kind of paved the way," Delaire said. "They made me believe that this could happen."
Baker and Knighton are quick to also concede that Connecticut is still a basketball state, and that their high school remains "a powerhouse," as Knighton puts it, thanks to their longtime head basketball coach Ken Smith, who last season won his 500th career game. The court is already named after him.
"You always grow up trying to work hard and just be great," Baker said. "We always had great coaches with Coach Smith, a Hall of Fame high school coach. He's always had a great program ever since he's been there."
In between swapping stories about their basketball playing days, Knighton makes sure to tell those listening by their lockers that he faced NBA talents Josh Smith and Dwight Howard during his travel team days at Windsor. Smith dunked over him, he admitted, but Howard never had any post moves, even as a high school superstar.
But the list of football talent in Connecticut is growing.
There are teammates Jordan Reed and Silas Redd Jr., linebacker Matt Shaughnessy, quarterback Dan Orlovsky, tight end Aaron Hernandez (the former Patriot now in prison) and defensive end Dwight Freeney, who Baker said he grew up watching.
There are former players such as quarterback Steve Young, safety Tebucky Jones and fullback Andrew Pinnock, and then some, such as Vikings center John Sullivan, who Baker played against at all three levels of football.
"There were so many people from Connecticut who came before us," Baker said, "and then we just carried on the tradition, eventually making a good name."
Delaire is unsure how long his time with the Redskins will be, but he'll cherish these moments, when he knows he has a few guys aware of his background and hometown. He also has a template to work from, something to aspire to be, and continue a tradition he believes will keep growing.
"Yeah football is definitely growing in Connecticut," Delaire said. "There's a lot of turf fields that are being built right now as we speak. There's a lot of strength and conditioning coaches that are gearing towards football more often. So it's growing, it's growing in the state of Connecticut. It's not going to be just a state of basketball. Football is growing highly."
Then he paused.
"Not as good as the south, but it's getting to that peak."