You just never know.

You just never know.

I guess that's why I wish I would have savored my one encounter with Ben Roethlisberger more than I did.

At the time, however, there was little reason to suspect he would end up in the NFL, at least from my perspective. Or that as a rookie in 2004-05 he would become the only quarterback to win his first 13 starts. Or that a year later he would become the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl.

Roethlisberger is the league's highest-paid player at $27.7 million this season -- a $2.5 million salary with a $25.2 million signing bonus -- and he has an opportunity to join Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks to win a pair of championships by age 26 when he leads the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday in Tampa.

You just never know.

I certainly didn't nearly a decade ago as I watched Roethlisberger conclude his career at Findlay High School with a 59-41 loss to Grove City in a Division I regional semifinal. A converted wide receiver, he was in his first season playing quarterback but already had generated considerable recruiting buzz, establishing what then were single-season state records for passing yards (4,041) and touchdowns (54). A few months after that loss in 1999 he signed with MiamiUniversity, where he made plenty of headlines and carried the RedHawks totheir firsttop-10 national ranking before becoming a first-round draft pick.

Still, as I prepared to cover that playoff game my main concern was spelling his name correctly. I remember being so worried I put it in the spellchecker on my computer.

That Grove City team is among the finest I've seen at the prep level, even though it lost the next week to Worthington Kilbourne in the first football game in Crew Stadium. But none of those Dawgs went on to enjoy NFL or even college greatness. Roethlisberger, on the other hand, certainly did.

You just never know.

He didn't impress me much back then, however. In fact, I kept wondering if and when he was going to throw the ball downfield. The Dawgs took a big lead and coach Brian Cross began substituting liberally. But Roethlisbergerkept bringing Findlay back with an assortment of screens and curl patterns out of a one- or two-step drop, and before you knew it Grove City's starting defense was back on the field trying to protect a shrinking cushion. The give-and-take continued throughout the game.

The outcome probably never was in question, though, and I thought I'd heard the last of Roethlisberger. Little did I know a few years later I'd see a No. 7 Steelers jersey bearing his namebeing handed down among my sister's five sons from oldest to youngest.

You just never know.

That point is worth considering with another signing day looming. To be sure, some of the players faxing letters of intent Wednesday will become college duds, and others stillmight move up the ranks from being the last player signed in a recruiting class to the first one drafted out of it.

And then there will be a select few who far exceed any and all expectations, as Roethlisberger clearly has done.

You just never know.