Apopka (Fla) High School has a solid history of producing big-time football players. DT Warren Sapp and RB Sammie Smith are a couple of Darter standouts that went on to careers in the NFL. This year, Apopka boasts two of the Sunshine State's top college prospects in ATH Eric Sledge and LB Quentin Taylor.
Sledge (6-3, 180 pounds, 4.59-seconds in the 40-yard dash) is a fabulous two-way athlete that could line up as a wide receiver or safety on the next level. Last year he racked up 77 tackles and two interceptions. This season he has seen action on both sides of the ball as well as special teams and has played a huge role in leading his team to an 8-1 record and birth in the state playoffs. Sledge talked about his role with Apopka.
"My first job is defense," said Sledge. "Free safety is my first position but if we face a team with a good receiver, we'll go man coverage and they'll move me to CB. I also play some strong safety which we use like an OLB.
"On defense, I've had two interceptions. One of those I ran back 80 yards. I had one kick return this year that I ran back 95 yards for a touchdown. I've got about 10 catches at wide receiver for about 200 yards and two touchdowns."
Currently rated a three-star prospect and the No. 41 player in Florida by SuperPrep, Sledge's best position in college may be safety but for now, he's leaning towards lining up on offense.
"I went to the Tennessee-South Carolina game yesterday and I was noticing that there seems to be a little bit more space and opportunity as a receiver and I think I could definitely dominate," he said. "I see some of those guys catch the ball in the open field and I'm thinking, I know I'm not the fastest thing in the world but, man, in a couple of years I think I could be a big receiver."
Regardless of the position, Sledge has received a torrent of scholarship offers during his senior season including pledges from NC State, UNC, South Carolina, Georgia, Auburn, Louisville, Kentucky, Ohio State, Mississippi State, Missouri and Maryland among others.
Sledge admits he hasn't put much time into the recruiting process and that may give the Wolfpack coaches, led by State defensive line coach Todd Stroud, an opportunity to make a serious push for an official visit over the coming weeks.
"I really don't know a lot about NC State right now because I hadn't been able to visit or get much information on them," said Sledge. "I work every weekend so it's hard for me to catch their games. This was the first weekend I've had off probably since the summer time.
"I went to the South Carolina game yesterday and I noticed they didn't have but two Florida guys on the roster though. It seems, when I talked to coach Stroud, he was telling me they had one of the top defenses in the nation and that was nice to hear because, at our school, our defense is what leads our team. I think we probably have one of the top three defenses in Florida."
Now in the heart of recruiting season, college coaches from all over have begun the push for one of those all-important five official visits. Sledge said he has a few schools in mind for future trips but, for the most part, he still considers everything wide open.
"I'd like to officially visit West Virginia and Louisville," he said. "I know West Virginia just got a big RB from NY and they've got a QB out of Palm Beach. Louisville has got that Brian Brohm kid. I'm considering NC State and Ohio State is another one but those are my thoughts now but it seems like every week I'm getting a new offer so I'm just keeping my options open."
With a talented teammate in LB Quentin Taylor lining up in front of him on defense, the obvious question is always whether or not the two want to play college ball together. Sledge says the two haven't discussed a package deal.
"We're just kind of doing our own thing," he said. "Our coaches are real big about keeping us together like brothers. We have a saying, ‘60 brothers, one heartbeat,' so we all stick together but we don't talk about recruiting much. In fact, I've never heard him say anything about it. I know I go to pick up my mail and he's got tons of it. He'll have like two or three hundred letters in there."
With the state playoffs approaching and his high school career winding down, Sledge says there are a few goals he hopes to reach before all is said and done.
"Growing up, I always wanted to play in the Florida-Georgia bowl or the Florida-Cali bowl," he said. "I'd like to get in the US All-American bowl, but man, you've got to be like tops in the country for that. It would be tough for me though because our team is a running team. If we passed 85% of the time, I know I'd have at least 1,000 yards receiving. I mean, I really don't think anyone can stop me. I went up against some of the best CB's at the camps over the summer and no one could stop me."