High on his school

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:28 AM ET

Ken-Yon Rambo was hardly surprised to see his old high school on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

"We should be in there!" shouts the first-year Stampeders receiver, whose enthusiastic but shrill voice is quickly becoming the most recognizable sound resonating through McMahon Stadium.

"Top dogs for high school. What else?

"It was a great school. Every different race was in there -- black, white, Asians, everything. It was multicultural. Big school, 4,500 students. It was very good in academics, too."

While the Long Beach Polytechnic Jackrabbits might not sound awe inspiring, Rambo's old California stomping grounds topped the magazine's recent poll of 38,000 U.S. high schools based on athletic programs.

Rambo, 26, was one of the school's most productive Jackrabbits, earning consensus All-American status before attending Ohio State University. He was eventually drafted in the seventh-round by the NFL's Oakland Raiders.

During his four years (1993-97) passing beneath Long Beach's bold slogan, 'Home of scholars and champions,' emblazoned above the front entrance, Rambo took the words to heart. He says it's a reminder to every student that Long Beach enjoys a legacy that must be upheld, greatly magnified now in light of the SI notoriety.

Rambo is part of a long list of NFLers who marched through its doors. Some four-dozen Jackrabbits went on to play in the NFL, while eight were opening-day starters in 2004.

Alumni include New England Patriots Pro Bowl linebacker Willie McGinest and Arizona running back Larry Croom, while Rambo played with Oakland DB Marques Anderson, Baltimore receiver Kareem Kelly and Kansas City pass catcher Samie Parker.

Poly has also produced NFL rookies of the year Mark Carrier, Leonard Russell and Gene Washington.

"Before I even went to the high school my dad would take me to the games all the time to see Willie McGinest play, and Mark Carrier," recalls Rambo, who says almost everyone in his family attended Poly. "You've got to uphold the family name. You've got to go in there and do your thing."

But it wasn't always that way as the school almost imploded amidst the race riots of the 1970s, nearly forcing the institution to close.

A shift in focus to academics helped the school survive as it began emphasizing scholastic achievement. It now attracts a surprisingly high number of students from nearby wealthy communities due to a legacy of placing pupils in exclusive colleges.

Although it's close to the high-rent district, Rambo is quick to point out it's also "close to the hood. You've got your downtown, with the nice little trendy areas, then you go a couple of blocks and you're into the hood."

Washington, from the class of 1965, is now the NFL's director of football operations. The man who dishes out fines and suspensions also happens to be Rambo's cousin. While Rambo played parts of four seasons in the NFL, he never butted heads with the league's enforcer.

"I never got into that predicament," says Rambo with a smile. "I wouldn't want to have to call him and say, 'Gene, look man, I don't need this fine.' But I never put myself in that predicament."

Through four CFL games, Rambo has 13 catches for 192 yards and one touchdown while carrying most of the load on punt returns with 219 yards, second-most in the CFL. He's 11th in combined yards (462).

Even rapper Snoop Dogg (a.k.a Calvin Broadus) was reincarnated after a previous life as a Jackrabbit. The musician maintains a presence by making generous donations to this old school.

"I met him lots of times," says Rambo, who even turned up in the Snoop video I Love It. "He donated money and jerseys and equipment to our school."

Long Beach is also the former high school of tennis legend Billie Jean King and hall-of-fame ball player Tony Gwynn.

Rambo performed double duty on the track team as a hurdler, while in class he was an American history buff always aware of the penalty for insufficient marks.

"You're not playing, it's that simple," Rambo recalls. "They don't play like that in California. If your grades aren't right you're not playing, man. Your grades have got to be right or you're not going to practice, you're going to tutorial, that's what you're going to do."

So Rambo was keen to keep his marks up while the Jackrabbits continue to earn straight A's from Sports Illustrated.


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