Jim Harbaugh spent just two years in Palo Alto when he was growing up—but he made those two years count. As a junior and senior at Palo Alto High School, he distinguished himself as an all-league, three sport athlete—football, basketball and baseball.
On the football field, quarterback Harbaugh completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,903 yards and 34 touchdowns, earning all-league recognition.
(Older brother John graduated from high school in Michigan and never attended Paly.)
Harbaugh moved to Palo Alto when his father became Defensive Coordinator for Stanford. The young Harbaugh soaked-up the West Coast Offense that was invented across the street and used at the San Francisco 49ers to transform the NFL.
Todd Thiemann was the starting center on the Paly football team during Harbaugh's senior year at Paly and remembers him as innovative. "He was incredibly competitive then, and that does not seem to have changed over the years,” Thiemann said. “Jim pushed the envelope to try something new to beat the other teams - he wanted to use the shotgun formation and we showed Coach Earl Hansen that we could do the long snaps, but Earl didn't want to take the risk of some screw-up."
Another teammate on the Paly football squad, Derek Kay, recognizes the same intensity in Harbaugh that he saw decades ago. "He does have an edginess," said Kay, "that I think gets frequently misinterpreted by people who don't know him and can cause problems, as witnessed with some of the issues with Pete Carol and other coaches. In short, he could appear cocky as all Hell, but I knew him well enough to know what was behind the facade of bravado and always liked him and remember our times hanging out together fondly."
SLIDESHOW: Jim Harbaugh’s Paly Days
Harbaugh’s talent didn’t end when he stepped off the football field. To demonstrate how good of an athlete he was at Paly, here are a few stats from his other sports—in basketball he averaged a shade-under 20 points per game, 19.8, and grabbed an average of 10 rebounds each game. In baseball, he batted .417. As a pitcher his junior year, he was 5-2. The 6’3, 195 lb. senior was truly an athlete for all seasons.
A basketball teammate of Harbaugh, Nick Zaharias, recently told the New York Daily News, “The level of competitiveness that Jim brought to the table literally forced every one of us to raise our game because if you didn’t, you were going to get destroyed. He would not allow himself to lose, and if he did lose, he’d deny that he lost.”
Zaharias only saw Harbaugh’s level of intensity in one other teammate, and that was at the college level. He called both of them “pathological competitors.”
Mike Parr also played on the Paly basketball team with Harbaugh, and still admires his determination. “Jim was one of - if not the most competitive individuals I've ever known - in a good way. His leadership helped push our 1982 Varsity Basketball Team to the CCS Semi-Finals, and the best record in Paly basketball history to that point.
“We knew he was a very special athlete too when college scouts would come to campus asking us where he was to talk about football scholarship offers.”
Early in the 2012 Paly football season, a buzz went through the crowd at a home game—Harbaugh was in the stands supporting the Vikings. Although he only spent two years on campus as a student, his love for the school, its team and coach, run deep.
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SLIDESHOW: Jim Harbaugh’s Paly Days
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