Legend Of The U
One of the top running backs ever at the University of Miami, Alonzo Highsmith Sr. has gone on to carve out a football legacy Beyond The U.
Highsmith was recruited by Howard Schnellenberger as a Defensive End from Miami’s Christopher Columbus High School. He finished a storied career there in 1982 as an All-American, Florida high school Defensive Player of the Year, and the Dade County Athlete of the Year.
He was converted to fullback before his freshman year and became a key part of The U’s first national championship team. In the 31-30 Orange Bowl win over Nebraska, Highsmith rushed for a team high 50 yards and a touchdown. Over the next 3 years under Coach Jimmy Johnson, Highsmith became a team leader, and a complete fullback that could do it all - run, catch, and block. Highsmith finished his UM career third in school history with 1,914 rushing yards. His 2,935 all-purpose yards are the fifth highest total for a Hurricane, and he’s tied for fourth place all-time at UM with 25 career touchdowns. A four-time letterman, he was also recognized as the nation’s best fullback after his senior season.
Alonzo Highsmith’s all-around game and high character caught the attention of the NFL. In 1987, Highsmith was the third overall pick in the 1st round by the Houston Oilers. The first overall pick that year was fellow Hurricane QB Vinny Testaverde.
Highsmith started 40 straight games with the Oilers from 1987-1989. His best season was 1989, when he totalled 6 TD’s and 732 total yards while blocking for future Hall Of Fame QB Warren Moon and star tailback Mike Rozier.
1989 saw a trade to the Dallas Cowboys and a reunion with former Canes Coach Jimmy Johnson. Unfortunately, it was the beginning of the end of Highsmith’s NFL career, as a series of knee injuries robbed him of his health and effectiveness going forward. He lasted 1 ½ seasons with the Cowboys, was waived in 1991, and picked up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He retired from the Buccaneers, and the NFL, at the end of the 1992 season.
During his 65 game NFL career, Highsmith totalled 1195 rushing yards for a 4.2 ypc average, and 7 TD’s; along with 42 receptions for 428 receiving yards and 3 TD’s. While not the spectacular career people had envisioned, Highsmith’s life Beyond The U was just getting started.
Alonzo Highsmith Sr. had always been a fighter. So, logically, that’s what he became next - a heavyweight boxer. Highsmith fought in the heavyweight division for four years after his NFL career. He trained at the same gym as former heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield, and fought on the same cards as George Foreman and Oscar De La Hoya. In 30 bouts, his record was a sparkling 27-1-2, with 23 knockouts - no surprise to any former linebackers that had been trucked by Highsmith in the past.
Highsmith’s most famous fight was in 1996 at Tokyo Bay NK Hall in Japan, where he TKO’d former New York Jet defensive end Mark Gastineau. At the time Gastineau was 15-1 in his own career’s second act. “That was the one fight where, you know, there was a lot said about Mark Gastineau: He was a fraud, he was this, he was that,” Highsmith said to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Michael Cohen. “And I wasn’t going to let this guy beat me. Once I knocked him down and saw that look in his eye, he didn’t want to fight no more.”
Following a draw versus American heavyweight Reggie Miller in 1998, Highsmith retired from the ring for good. “I just met so many fascinating people in boxing, and it was fun,” Highsmith said. Eight weeks later, he was back in the NFL - but not as a player.
Running With The Pack
Highsmith wrote letters to every personnel department in the NFL inquiring about openings. A friend recommended him to Green Bay Packers General Manager Ron Wolf, who hired him as an area scout in February 1999. Highsmith specialized in scouting college prospects in the Southwest area for The Pack, a position he held for 13 years.
In May 2012 he was promoted to his current position of Senior Personnel Executive. Highsmith is well-respected in NFL scouting circles for his acumen and professionalism, and is often spoken of as a future General Manager in the league. Among the current Packer braintrust, he offers a unique and valued perspective as a former player in both college and pro football. Asked about his work with the Packers, Highsmith said: “The thing about that’s unique about this business, when you get up close and personal to people, football players have a certain mentality about themselves ... there’s something about them that makes them who they are. Sometimes you feel that in players...you go ‘there’s something about this guy’. That’s for the whole process in this business.”
Highsmith and his wife Denise live in Green Bay, Wisconsin. They have three children, Alonzo (26), A.J. (25), and Jordan (22). He also has two other children, Jasmine (30) and Brandon (28).
Hurricanes fans will remember A.J., who began his career at The U as a QB in 2009 and graduated as a Safety in 2013. Following in his father’s footsteps, A.J. is now working as a pro personnel scout for the San Francisco 49ers.
Alonzo Highsmith Sr. is a proud part of The U alumni family as well. He was named to the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame in 1997, and is a familiar face both hosting and appearing at events. In 2015 he began a program, BuildingTheU.com, to raise funds for UM Football. He’s always been known to have a vocal opinion on Hurricane Football, and is currently said to be pretty happy with the state of the program.
As Highsmith said in a press release for a Hall of Fame event, “I’m a proud alumnus of both academics and sports and a Cane for life.”
Alonzo Highsmith Sr. - a Miami Hurricane loud and proud, from the NFL to the boxing ring to the Green Bay Packers front office, living life Beyond The U.