Now finishing up his freshman year of high school, Slade (5-10, 170) was a middle schooler when Harris first saw the running back that already has college coaches drooling over his potential.
“I saw him playing middle school football, and he just had a motor that other kids didn’t have,” Harris told BuckeyeSports.com. “He had wonderful vision and understood blocking schemes. You could see that just from sitting in the stands. Once I got a chance to meet him and watched him train and watched his work ethic, that is what really separated him not just from other middle schoolers but also from high schoolers. He’s a workaholic.
“When he came to camp during two-a-days, it didn’t take him long to figure out how we did things because he worked so hard that by the second week of camp he had the playbook down. When you get a kid that has that special ability and can also mentally absorb everything thrown at him, it’s really not something you see every year.”
Before he played a snap of high school football, Slade had already visited one big-time college program – Ohio State. He took a trip to Columbus on May 31, 2014, along with high school teammate Matthew Burrell (a 2015 Ohio State signee) to compete in the Nike Football Training Camp held on the Ohio State practice fields. The day before the camp, Slade got the full recruiting experience along with the four-star guard Burrell.
“He showed up as an eighth grader, and you’re not expecting anyone to know who you are, but the whole staff knew him by name,” Harris said. “For him, it was like, whoa. He thought he was just going along with Matt but he showed up and they’re treating him like a recruit. It’ll definitely be a school he visits again this spring, without a doubt.
“You never forget your first visit, I’ll put it like that.”
It was a productive trip for Slade, who held his own in a camp comprised of elite high school upperclassmen and also got a taste of what the recruiting process will have in store for him.
“They have nice facilities,” Slade told BuckeyeSports.com. “Last year, I wasn’t really looking at the specifics of it. I was just up there for the camp with Matt Burrell. I’d really like to get back there because I remember they have nice facilities and their coaching staff is amazing. I could see myself going there.”
Slade is already starting to form a bond with Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr., an ace recruiter in the Virginia area.
“He’s a very interesting coach, in a good way,” Slade said of Johnson. “He has a bond with players that most coaches with players don’t really get to have. He has a way of talking to the players, and I really like him.”
College coaches knew who he was before he played a single snap at Hylton, but his legend only increased once he stepped foot on the field. Slade got off to a fast start, and it wasn’t long before the game that changed everything.
On Sept. 26, Hylton was facing off against Nokesville (Va.) Patriot, an undefeated team ranked in the top five of the Washington, D.C., metro area at the time. Before the game, Burrell told Slade that if he was going to do everything he could to ensure the freshman had the best game of his life. All Slade did was score eight touchdowns in a 66-41 triumph for Hylton.
“When Ricky scored eight touchdowns against those guys, and we needed all eight touchdowns, that’s when I said, ‘OK, he gets it now.’ He understood that not only was he on the team but he was also one of the faces of the team,” Harris said. “That moment right there is when I knew Ricky was going to be a Division I player, absolutely.”
It was also the moment Division I schools began to realize they couldn’t wait any longer to offer him. On Sept. 29, three days after his eight-touchdown game, Virginia extended Slade his first scholarship offer. Ohio State and Virginia Tech followed suit one day later.
With his freshman year of classes not even complete, Slade holds offers from Clemson, Iowa, Maryland, North Carolina State, North Carolina, Penn State, South Carolina and Tennessee in addition to the ones from the Cavaliers, Hokies and Buckeyes. While Scout.com has not yet assigned star ratings to class of 2018 prospects, Slade holds what amounts to a five-star offer list for someone this early in the recruiting cycle.
He has taken visits to South Carolina, North Carolina and Maryland this spring and plans to take more.
“It’s been one of a kind because not everyone my age gets a chance to experience what I’m going through,” he said. “It’s not too overwhelming right now, so I’m just trying to take it all in and visit every school I can.”
When it comes to the recruiting process, he and his family might be more familiar with it than many prospects at his age. His older sister Kailyn is a forward for the Virginia Commonwealth women’s soccer team and started all 20 games for the Rams in 2014. On top of that, Slade got to watch Burrell go through the process with football.
“Ricky was able to lean on Matt and see what the process is, and he got the chance to meet a lot of coaches with no pressure on him because he’s so young,” Harris said. “He was able to take in everything that’s going to happen to him by looking at Matt. He still has some players on the team that will be seniors this fall who will be Division I guys. By the time he’s a senior, the process won’t be overwhelming for him.”