Throughout the history of high school football, there have been some records that would be regarded as unbreakable and then there are others that have endured the test of time.
John Giannantonio’s amazing 754-yard rushing performance in a game against Mountain Lakes (New Jersey) High School and his 594.5 rushing yards per game for the 1950 season for Netcong (New Jersey) High School clearly meet both criteria.
In the early 1950s, Giannantonio (”Johnny G.,“ as he was commonly known) was an outstanding running back with great speed. Perhaps making those two performances even more amazing is the fact that Giannantonio was just a sophomore at the time, and a 5-6½, 137-pound one at that.
“However, I had a well-developed pair of legs and was very quick,” Giannantonio noted. “I once was timed at :10.1 in the 100.”
To state his single-game performance in other terms, Giannantonio ran more than the length of 7½ football fields, which works out to nearly a half mile. Despite covering that vast expanse of real estate ‑ and also playing safety on defense ‑ he emerged from the game relatively fresh.
“Although I was carrying the ball quite a bit – probably every other play ‑ I wasn’t tired at all,” Giannantonio said. “However, I knew it was something special.
“Afterward, all I knew was we won the game and I was already thinking about the next game. At the end of the season, the papers were writing about it and I was full of joy.”
In addition to those two prodigious performances, he also rushed for 4,756 yards that season. All three marks still rank as national records, according to the NFHS’ National High School Sports Record Book.
While Giannantonio’s 4,756 rushing yards is an impressive 261 yards ahead of second-place person in that record category and his 754-yard game is 93 yards ahead of that runner-up, his 594.5 yards-per-game rushing average is so far ahead of the second-place performer that you can barely make him out in the rear-view mirror.
And that runner-up is no slouch.
Trailing Giannantonio is the legendary Ken Hall of Sugar Land, Texas. Known as the “Sugar Land Express,” Hall is in the National Federation of State High School Associations’ National High School Hall of Fame, once held 17 national records and still holds the national career rushing yardage record of 11,232 yards.
During the fall of 1953, Hall averaged 337.1 rushing yards per game. However, as impressive as that is, it still trails Giannantonio by a whopping 257.4 yards per game. And despite being halfway across the nation during the fledgling days of national high school sports media coverage, Giannantonio had heard of Hall’s exploits.
“When I was playing, names were always popping up in the paper,” Giannantonio said. “I had heard about Ken Hall and other guys from Texas and Chicago. I also heard about how I was getting good write-ups across the country back then.”
As often is the case with a great running back, much of the credit for Giannantonio’s success has to go to the offensive line that opened up holes for him.
“We had a great offensive line that averaged 190 pounds,” Giannantonio said. “We didn’t have weights back them – we just did our own exercises. They were a bunch of good guys and we were like a family. There were no jealousies and we did everything together.
“We were very quick as a team. When the play was called, they called ‘hut’ and then we were off and running. Also, we’d play both ways and play the whole game. We ended up 8-0 that year.”
In addition to the nickname “Johnny G.,” Giannantonio was coined another moniker and had a “look” emulated by many of his fans.
“Back in the ‘50s, there was a horse called ‘Citation’ that won the Triple Crown,” Giannantonio explained. “They called me ‘Citation’ after him.
“I had a crew cut back then. My father was a barber and everybody wanted a ‘Johnny G.’ crew cut.”
Looking back from the perspective of 61 years after the fact, Giannantonio harbors many fond memories of his playing days.
“Those were great years and I had fun,” Giannantonio said. “I loved playing football as a kid and I still have football in my heart. I watch the high school kids today to see who’s going to be a star.”