RECRUITING: Sledge always wanted to be a Gator

There's an old saying that ghosts, like fond memories, are seldom seen but carry a lot of weight. Notre Dame has The Four Horsemen. Illinois has The Galloping Ghost, Red Grange. Florida, it appears, has a bunch of playmakers from those mid to late 90's squads that revved up "The Swamp" and in the process inspired a younger generation.

Apopka High School's Eric Sledge grew up a Florida fan, and vividly remembers everything from the Gators celebrated field entrance to the players who were the toast of the Southeastern Conference.

"What's not to like?" Sledge quizzed. "The facilities are crazy. Personally, the hype walk did it for me. We (recruits) all got wild and jacked up before we came out of that tunnel. It was intense. I kept thinking about Fred (Taylor), Reidel (Anthony), (Jevon) Kearse, all of those guys that I watched when I was a kid. Coming out of there was a dream come true."

It is a most ironic twist that the architect of those teams, Steve Spurrier, is the loser in this prize fight. Last week, Sledge committed to the University of South Carolina coach.

"I spoke with Coach Spurrier when I got back in town," he recalled. "I told him that I was going to Florida. I think he took it personally. He acted as though I was a hypocrite or something by not going to South Carolina. It's all business, though, man. I just felt like this is where I need to be."

The new sheriff manning the sidelines for the Orange & Blue, Urban Meyer, clearly outdueled the former champion of "The Swamp" (Spurrier). It was Meyer who almost single handedly piqued Sledge's interest and convinced him that dreams can come true.

"They (Florida) had been recruiting me as a safety, but Coach Meyer said that I could come in and play wide receiver," he said. "I really hit it off with him. He took a lot of time to talk with me personally. We walked around and talked a lot this weekend. I felt like he gave me more attention than maybe some others. He told me that once I'm his recruit, I can depend on him. I felt like an All-American around him.

"I've got him (Coach Meyer) hooked on me. I explained to him why I wear the glove, and he took the time to listen to me and understand what I was saying. I told Coach that I really haven't had an opportunity to be a playmaker offensively. I've just played defense. I'm telling you that I'll bring some toughness to the wide receivers. My success has been because I've been physical. I play wide receiver like Jeremy Shockey or Kellen Winslow, except with speed."

Sledge said that he wishes he had been able to put up more offensive numbers while playing for the Apopka Blue Darters. He enjoyed playing defense, but he often felt that he could contribute more with the ball in his hands. He said that he'll be ready to play upon arrival in Gainesville.

"I'm 6-4 and 196 now," Sledge said. "I have a personal trainer now. I haven't been able to lift weights in season, but I'm busy lifting now. I can feel the difference.

"I also have a speed trainer. He's my cousin, Gerald Wright. You probably remember him. He ran a 10.1 in school. I think that his fastest time ever was a 9.6. I've gained almost 20 pounds since the season ended. I know that I gained 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas."

One of the reasons Sledge feels so confident that he can make the smooth transition can be found in the bloodlines.

"I have several relatives playing in the NFL like Warren Sapp, James McKnight, Derrick Clark, and a couple of cousins (Brandon Meriweather and Aaron Jones) who play college ball".

Eric Sledge feels as though he has a locker room full of teammates. He told me that the bond the group had formed would stay with them through their careers, from the freshman locker room to the practice field and to The Swamp.

"It was a great trip" he exclaimed. "You know on all of my trips they took us out to some pretty cool places. We had some good times. But, we really didn't do that here and I actually liked it better. We just went and hung out at the house. We all played cards and talked. All of the recruits hit it off. We had a great time at the picnic. It was big time man. It was really cool to see (Chris) Leak, (Brandon) Siler, (Kyle) Jackson, even Josh Portis there. So many players were there, and they had a good time too."

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