The defensive lineman, who has offers from schools such as Michigan and Oregon, has overcome a rough childhood and is coming back from a broken ankle suffered last season.
The broken bone served as a temporary setback.
Because there’s simply no breaking his spirit.
Justus Legg responded to last year’s ankle injury the way he handles every other challenge: with resolve. The break, which came just a third of the way into the 2016 football season, derailed what was shaping up to be a sensational sophomore campaign for the Auburn Riverside defensive end.
NPSL Olympic Division at glance
Five teams to watch
Beamer: Despite some question marks on offense (young line, inexperienced QB), the Titans could well have the makings of another playoff team — especially if they are stingy on defense again.
Auburn Riverside: From back-to-back 1-9 campaigns to a 6-4 playoff team, the Ravens made significant strides last year and have even bigger aspirations in 2017. Speed is a big plus.
Auburn Mountainview: Having a game-breaker like Talan Alfrey in the lineup should give the Lions a chance in any game. Defensive play up front will be a key.
Federal Way: The Eagles made their way back to the playoffs last year after a rare miss in 2015 and they have enough talent to do it again this fall with experience and speed.
Enumclaw: With seven starters back on each side of the football, the Hornets expect to challenge for another playoff spot and possibly a division title. Depth is a rare plus with talent across the field.
Five players to watch
RB/DB, 5-9, 182, Sr., Beamer
Outlook: McKay, son of head coach Darren McKay, is perhaps the most versatile player in the league and won multiple awards as a junior, scoring 14 TDs.
WR/DB, 6-2, 205, Sr., Auburn Mountainview
Outlook: BYU commit was the Olympic All-Purpose Player of the Year as a junior and is the one opposing coaches have to game-plan around. Back at natural WR position after filling need at QB last year.
FB/DE, 6-3, 250, Sr., Decatur
Outlook: Hard-nosed, old-school hitter plays at one speed: All out every down, according to his coach. Led the league in tackles for loss last year with 18 and has a clear nose for the football.
WR/DB, 6-6, 220, Sr., Enumclaw
Outlook: The athletic Anderson can play any position but is a polished receiver who can go up and bring down the ball. Earned first-team accolades as a junior.
QB/DB, 5-11, 225, Sr., Auburn Riverside
Outlook: True dual-threat QB features a strong arm with tailback moves and is the team’s clear leader. A ball hawk on defense, he was second on the team in tackles last year.
“It killed me every day, knowing I was missing an opportunity to achieve and succeed on the field with my team, my brothers,” said Legg, who healed in time to see some snaps in Riverside’s playoff game with Monroe. “But it drove me to work harder in the offseason.”
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Legg (6 foot 5, 240 pounds) molded himself into one of the state’s top recruits with offers from multiple Division I programs, including Oregon, Oregon State and Michigan.
His drive and determination are deep-seated.
Legg has a clear vision for his future in part because of the things he’s seen in the past — a drug-addicted mother and no father in the picture.
“It definitely drove me and still is my why, as to why I’m doing all this,” he said. “Why I want to go to the NFL, why I want to succeed and prove that I never needed a mother or I never needed a father to do it.”
Legg thanks his grandmother and uncle for filling those needs, raising him for most of his life.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without them,” he said.
He has spent time in both households and now mostly lives with his grandmother, who asked simply to be called Grandma Jackie for this story.
“He’s my heart,” she said, describing Justus as a forward-thinking, Christian young man who wants to excel in all aspects of life.
Justus’ mother was “19 and clean” when he was born, according to Jackie — who is also raising a teenage nephew with her husband — but later became addicted to opiate drugs after they were prescribed for a painful foot condition. When the prescriptions stopped, and pills on the street became too expensive, she turned to heroin — a common spiral for addicts.
It’s a difficult subject, but one the family has dealt with admirably and chooses to look forward, not back.
“We have overcome that,” Jackie said. “His mother is obviously making her own decisions, but her life and what she got involved in, and all the trash that comes along with that, we could not allow Justus to be a part of.”
Justus remembers it as a confusing time when he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t live with his mom. But in the meantime, football became a strong distraction and he quickly fell in love with the game. Even at a young age he told Grandma Jackie: I’m going to go to the NFL.
It’s a common dream, but Legg is an uncommon player, according to Auburn Riverside coach Bryant Thomas, who guided the Ravens to a 6-4 record last fall after back-to-back 1-9 campaigns.
“He’s definitely a unique kid in a unique situation,” Thomas said. “His work ethic is second to none.”
Legg often went from summer workouts at Auburn Riverside to another at the RISE Football Academy.
“He has the potential to be the most dominant defensive player I have coached in high school,” Thomas said.
To date, Auburn Riverside’s most notable football product is David Paulson, a 2007 graduate who went on to play tight end at Oregon and in the NFL. But Legg has drawn more national attention as a junior, especially after strong showings at several summer camps.
“Justus is already a big-time national recruit,” said Brandon Huffman, the national director of recruiting for Scout Media Network who ranks him as the No. 1 defensive prospect in Washington among juniors and third overall.
“As a prospect, he’s got a lot of upside — good size and quickness off the ball, strength and ability to get to the quarterback,” Huffman said.
Thomas said Legg was the most dominant player on the Ravens’ freshman football team in 2015.
“You could just see the potential,” Thomas said. “But the majority of people have potential — it’s what you do with that potential. … It was just a matter of him unlocking it and putting in the work to get there, and he’s done that, tenfold.”
Last season before the injury, he was among Riverside’s leading tacklers in his first three games, with four tackles for loss. During his recovery, with his right foot in a boot, he never missed a practice and was constantly trying to get cleared to play.
Thomas became aware of Legg’s background over the past two years and knows the fire it has lit inside him.
“It’s a motivating factor for him,” Thomas said. “He’s busted his butt to be better than that. It’s motivating him to be the best he can be in terms of an athlete and just in life in general.”