Two drivers in the Indy 500 played high school football

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When the call is made to “start your engines” today at the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500, high school football will be represented. Former footballers Kyle Kaiser and Sage Karam are in the middle of the starting grid of thirty-three cars in Indianapolis, Indiana.

In the middle of Row 6 is Kaiser, a rookie and a former quarterback at Bellarmine Prep in San Jose California. Karam, who was a receiver at Nazareth High School in Pennsylvania, is on the outside of Row 8.

Kaiser actually played behind K.J. Carta-Samuels, who after heading to the University of Washington transferred to UCLA. Kaiser stopped playing football before his junior year.

Both of the drivers showed-off their football skills at two separate NFL Scouting Combines.

This past April, Kaiser ran the 40-yard dash, the L-cone, the shuttle dash and the broad jump. His broad jump came was 8 feet, 11 inches, plus he ran a 4.83 second 40-yard dash, which was better than overall No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield, who ran a 4.84 second 40.

In 2015, Karam participated at the NFL Scouting Combine with Josef Newgarden, who attended Pope John Paul II High School in Tennessee where he was a classmate with Golden Tate, who is now a wide receiver with the NFL’s Detroit Lions.

Here’s how the two did during their testing:

  • 40-yard dash: Karam – 4.9 seconds … Newgarden – 5.0 seconds
  • Broad jump: Karam – 8 feet, 9 inches … Newgarden – 8 feet, 11 inches
  • Vertical jump: Karam – 22 inches … Newgarden – 24.5 inches
  • Three-cone: Karam – 7.57 seconds … Newgarden – 7.7 seconds

Below you can read the story that I wrote about Karam for the in 2015 Indy 500.

Sage Karam story from 2015

As everyone knows, I have a lot of hometown pride when it comes to the Lehigh Valley, which is where I was born and spent 40 years of my life.

For those of you not familiar with the Lehigh Valley, it’s a three city area – Allentown (yes, the Billy Joel song), Bethlehem and Easton – with lots of great small towns surrounding it. The Lehigh Valley is located about 50 miles north of Philadelphia and 80 miles west of New York City.

And, while high school football is my passion, I love the sport of Indy Car racing.  And, there’s no better day in the sport than today when 33 of the best drivers in the world, hit The Brickyard for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indy 500.

Until a year ago, my only choice for cheering started and ended with someone with the last name Andretti. The famous racing family hails from Nazareth, Pennsylvania.  I’ve known Mario, Michael and Marco for a long-time. I was only nine years old when Mario won the family’s only 500 in 1969. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Growing-up so closely to Andretti greatness, I’ve not only come to enjoy the sport, but know how tough these athletes are. Trust me, if you’ve never jumped into an Indy car and driven one — and I have — don’t ever say Indy Car drivers aren’t athletes.

Sage Karam

Today, I settled-in to enjoy the grueling 500 miles at 200+ miles per hour.  I also had two choices for cheering – Marco Andretti, Mario’s grandson, and upstart Sage Karam, also from Nazareth.

Karam who finished 9th as a rookie in last year’s race, started Sunday’s race in 21st position on the outside of Row 7.  Many thought, Karam had a great chance of winning the Memorial Day Weekend race, but that chance ended on the first lap when he was knocked-out of the race after a crash between Turns 1 and 2.

Karam is an excellent example of what type of athletes these driver are.

At Nazareth High School, Karam played football and also wrestled.  The wrestling part of his life was a no-brainer, since Karam’s dad Jody was a great high school wrestler and head coach. According to The Express-Times, Sage had a 53-31 lifetime record with 15 career pins.

Karam’s football career began at the youth level as a running back, but ended in 5th grade in order to pursue his passion for racing.  However, as a junior, then Nazareth head football coach Rob Melosky convinced Karam to come-out for the team.

“We always needed depth, so I spent a lot of time working the hallways to find kids to play for us,” said Melosky. “I knew that Sage was a good athlete, who was coming to our games and watching from the student cheering section.  I approached him sometime during his sophomore year and asked if he’d be interested in coming out for the team?”

At that point in Karam’s young racing career, he was on the road a lot, but he told Melosky that it might actually be possible for him to play during his junior year.

“Sage told me he’d miss doubles, because of his race schedule, but would let me know when he was back in town,” said Melosky, who is now the offensive coordinator at Allentown Central Catholic. “I think he was back by the second or third game of the season, so we started him on the JV team and he dominated no matter where we put him — running back, linebacker, kickoff returner.”

Melosky recalls that by the varsity’s fourth or fifth game, it was time to give Karam his shot.

“We decided to put him in as our kickoff returner and I remember him busting his first for a 40-or-50 yard return,” said Melosky. “He just took-off from there.  If I remember correctly by the last three games, Sage was starting at outside linebacker.   He was a great tackler, which I think was a direct result of him being a good wrestler.”

Melosky said that Karam also played slot receiver that year, but because his racing career was taking-off, he didn’t play football during his senior season.

“There’s no doubt that Sage would have been a good one his senior season,” said Melosky.

What does Sage think about what could have happened if he stayed with football?

He recently said this to Sports Illustrated writer Andrew Lawrence:

“I think my best sport besides racing was football. I think I probably could have gotten some cool offers there.” – Sage Karam


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About the Author

Jeff Fisher
Jeff is an award-winning journalist and expert in the field of high school sports, underscored with his appearance on CNBC in 2010 to talk about the big business of high school football in America. Jeff turned to his passion for high school football into an entrepreneurial venture called High School Football America, a digital media company focused on producing original high school sports content for radio, television and the internet. Jeff is co-founder and editor-in-chief of High School Football America, which is a media partner with USA TODAY High School Sports.