LAS VEGAS — It really is, with apologies to Charles Dickens, a tale of two dressing rooms. Or a baseball clubhouse and a football locker room.
Because in San Francisco Giants‘ inner sanctum, the story of the All-Star outfielder Joc Pedersen be in front Las Vegas Raiders All-Pro receiver Davante Adams on their high school football team’s depth chart at wideout is well known. With a well-meaning eye roll. Or three.
“Yeah, I might have heard that story a little bit,” the Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford Summer said with a smile. “He’s definitely mentioned it a few times, something about his numbers and him being a ‘Wide Receiver 1.’
“I assumed Davante was going to double that[-teamed] every night so Joc would be open. That’s kind of what I was counting on.”
Across the clubhouse, the Giants aceLogan Webbwho grew up a big Raiders fan outside of Sacramento, is more than impressed.
“I think it’s great, especially because technically he was ahead of him and Davante is now the No. 1 receiver in the entire league,” Webb laughed. “It’s pretty cool. I’d make fun of Joc and say, ‘Where did that athleticism go?’
But some 500-plus miles southeast of the Bay Area, in the Raiders’ desert home, the story is a nonstarter.
“I had no idea,” the Raiders Pro Bowl player said AJ Cole, a die-hard Braves fan, recalled Pederson’s heroics in Atlanta’s 2021 run to the World Series title. “It must be a hotbed of talent. I’d like to see some stats. I need to see some statistics.”
And security Jonathan Abram, who goes against Adams in practice every day and was a highly regarded high school baseball prospect in Mississippi, wanted proof. “Too real?” Abram pondered. “That’s a crazy statistic. Look at both boys now.”
Pederson is a two-time World Series champion who has 702 hits and 171 home runs in nine major league seasons. Adams, whose 1-3 Raiders play on Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN+/ABC), is a two-time All-Pro receiver who has 695 career receptions for 8,411 yards and 76 touchdowns in eight seasons with Green Bay Packers and four games with the Raiders.
So how, you might ask, given the career paths Adams and Pederson have taken, was a future two-time All-Pro pass-catcher a backup to a future two-time Home Run Derby contender in the one year they played together?
Both have thrived in their respective sports. In fact, they each made their respective major league debuts within three days of each other in September 2014.
But in 2009, all eyes were on the football field at Palo Alto (California) High School.
THEY WERE CALLED “X-Power” on the field, as much a nickname for the duo as a reference to the position they shared as prep receivers.
“I was backup ‘X,'” Adams said. “Even though we were on the field at the same time.”
Adams was a junior, Pederson a senior in the fall of 2009. Adams also played his first year of organized football since breaking his left arm playing football in the eighth grade.
“That was the first game, the last play of the first half,” Adams said. “I was the quarterback. I just said, ‘I’m done with this s—. I’m not breaking bones.'”
Three years later, supported by family, Adams joined Pederson on the Palo Alto football team. The two had been “tight friends” since middle school, Adams said, and had already been teammates on the Vikings’ basketball team. It was there that Adams made his first big impression on Pederson.
“I just remember us playing basketball and he was a freshman, I was a sophomore, and he was always samples to pound samples to dunk,” Pederson recalled. “He could dunk, but the next year he was doing like 360s. It just went to a whole other level of, ‘Woah, that’s…’ between the legs, 360s, just everything.
“I think he could win a dunk contest in the NBA. That’s how special an athlete he is.”
Well, after his first touchdown with the Raiders in the season-opening loss at Los Angeles Chargerscelebrated Adams with a pseudo-Isaiah Rider style “East Bay Funk Dunk.” In mid-air, still rising to SoFi Stadium’s goal posts, he put the ball between his legs and just before dunking the ball over the crossbar, he dropped the pigskin harmlessly into the end zone.
In high school, it was Pederson who stood out.
“He was a dog,” Adams said of his geology class partner.
“He was a heck of a player,” Adams continued. “He showed me a lot. I didn’t want to look at him, as the vet, because he was always, just to paint the picture, he was kind of a jerk in high school. But he was … a stud in all three sports [football, basketball and baseball].
“And I [already] knew so much about football so it wasn’t that type of atmosphere. But I learned a lot from him, as he was a bit of an old head and watched him from a distance. … He was one of the roughest [teammates] I have ever had. He wanted to talk some s—.”
That talk was sometimes directed at their football coach, Earl Hansen, a legend in the South Bay high school coaching ranks who counts Jim Harbaugh as one of his early quarterbacks and who won more than 200 games combined in 31 seasons in Palo Alto and the San Lorenzo Valley.
In fact, Hansen, known as the “Silver Fox,” said he kicked Pederson off the team early in 2009 after what Hansen said was “an outburst.”
Pederson was back soon enough after recovering, and Adams recalled Pederson going out against San Jose Archbishop Mitty High in his first game back with 100 yards receiving in one quarter.
“That was back before anyone had really done it swag” said Adams. “He had swag. He scored and threw the ball back. It was old-school where you had 16 bands on your arms. He was one of those who did. He did it with baseball so he had some exclusives drip he would also give us. Camo long sleeve and all that.”
Statistics? Cole, the Raiders punter, wanted stats.
The 2009 Palo Alto team went 7-2-2, with Pederson catching 30 passes for 650 yards (21.7 yards per catch) and nine touchdowns and Adams, again in his first year of organized high school football, catching 25 passes for 484 yards (19.4 YPC) and seven TDs.
“Basically, his first year he knew what he had to do, but he didn’t know what the other guys had to do,” Hansen, who retired after the 2013 season, said of Adams. “It didn’t take long.
“It was fun, we could call all kinds of different plays and it would work. It was pretty special. We had a pretty good year until our quarterback got hurt.”
Pederson remembers how elusive Adams was after the catch.
“It’s not like he’s super, super fast, but his speed just stands out,” Pederson said. “If there’s one person trying to tackle him, that one person won’t tackle him. Not even touch him, really. He just finds a way to juke you. It’s pretty impressive.”
NFL defensive backs agree.
PEDERSON GRADUATED IN spring 2010 with his eyes strictly on baseball and was selected by Los Angeles Dodgers in the 11th round of MLB’s June draft. He went on to spend time in such minor league outposts as Midland, Michigan, Rancho Cucamonga, California and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In the fall of 2010, with Adams firmly entrenched as the WR1, Hansen’s Vikings went 14-0 and won the California Division I state title. Adams received a scholarship to Fresno State and progressed from being to an unranked recruit becoming a second round draft pick of the Packers in 2014.
Pederson made his major league debut by hitting at Dodger Stadium on September 1, 2014, striking out and looking to end the game with Juan Uribe at third base and Carl Crawford at first in a 6–4 loss to Washington Nationals. Adams made his NFL debut three days later in Seattle, where he played 18 snaps (nine on offense, nine on special teams) and didn’t have a pass thrown his way in the Packers’ 36-16 loss to the Seahawks.
Despite such inauspicious beginnings to their professional careers, they have thrived. And they have kept in touch with a single text. Adams and the Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was particularly happy to see Pedersen homer and then talk trash to a fan who had run him in Milwaukee earlier this season after Adams sent Carr a link to the video on Instagram.
But these are strange days for Pederson, who won’t play in the postseason for the first time in his big league career after being part of the last two World Series champions in the 2020 Dodgers (one of six LA playoff teams, he played on) and the Braves last year. Adams is still chasing his first Lombardi Trophy while getting his sea legs on the tumultuous Raiders ship, seeing off three straight losses before hitting Denver Broncos in week 4.
“He loves it,” Pedersen said. “I mean, the Raiders have been his favorite team since he was a little kid and it’s kind of a dream come true.
“At Fresno State he just continued to grow and in the NFL he continued to get better. He’s hungry to get better and it’s been a fun journey to watch.”