Aaron Rouse, a third-round draft choice at safety by the Packers this year, showed a knack for making the big play on defense in the early stages of his career.
A standout at First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach, Va., Rouse recalled a critical game against Beach District rival Ocean Lakes H.S. during his junior year. The two schools didn't care much for one another, and Rouse had gone to elementary school with several Ocean Lakes foes.
"We lived at one end of the city, they were at the other end, and they claimed they were the best at everything," Rouse said. "I had a lot of friends that went to that school, and we talked a lot of trash."
Turns out Rouse got bragging rights, at least for one year, when he had two interceptions, including the game-saver in the red zone in the final two minutes to preserve a victory that ultimately propelled First Colonial to a playoff berth.
As Rouse recalls it, First Colonial was leading by a field goal and Ocean Lakes was driving late in the game.
"I played outside linebacker then and we had small corners," Rouse said. "They had a huge - he was like 6-8, receiver - and all they did was throw it up to him. They drove all the way down to our 20, and our backs were against the wall.
"Something just told me to back up, kind of play double coverage on the 6-8 guy, and they threw it up and I got the game-winning interception. That feeling I'll never forget."
He even remembered seeing his girlfriend, who was a cheerleader for the rival school, briefly betray Ocean Lakes by cheering wildly for her man after the big play.
"I've got it on videotape," Rouse said. "When I caught it, she went crazy, I went crazy. She had to come to her senses because she was on their sidelines."
The fact that First Colonial eventually lost in the first round of the playoffs was immaterial in the end. The victory had provided a significant boost to First Colonial the rest of that season. And to Rouse, making that play, in that game, with those stakes helped get him noticed among the area's top prep players.
"I just think it opened people's eyes," he said. "They knew about me, but when I made that play, they said it was the real deal. From then on, everywhere I went, they had their eye on me. They knew I was either going to knock them out or get an interception, some kind of big play."
The play against Ocean Lakes became a prelude to the season opener of his junior season at Virginia Tech, in 2005. Playing at North Carolina State in a nationally televised Sunday night game, Rouse once again had two interceptions, and once again saved the game with one of them.
N.C. State had beaten Virginia Tech the previous year, 17-16, on a late field goal. This time, N.C. State trailed 20-16 and was driving late when Rouse intercepted a pass at the Tech 6-yard line in the final seconds to seal the win.
"It was like re-living high school all over again," Rouse said. "I'm just trying to keep that game-winning trend going now."