Never want to overstate one commitment, but it’s hard to tell Oklahoma fans to not be excited about Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy running back T.J. Pledger picking the Sooners.
Pledger, ranked No. 20 in the Scout 100, chose OU two weeks ago during his second unofficial visit to Norman. This time around he was with his parents. Once his mother was on board, the rest was history for OU.
Now at IMG, Pledger spent his recent years at West Hills (Calif.) Chaminade under the tutelage of Ed Croson. Although the loss of Pledger stings, Croson talked with Sooners Illustrated about Pledger and why OU fans should be so fired up.
Pledger rushed for 1,881 yards and 32 touchdowns as a junior, averaging more than eight yards per carry. For his three-year career, he’s rushed for 4,034 yards with 69 touchdowns and a 7.4 average.
“We had seen him in middle school as an eighth grader, and he was the talk of the town as far as young kids go,” Croson said. “We were able to get him to go to our school, which was awesome. We were not sure how fast he would be ready to play at the high school level, but it was pretty obvious pretty quickly that he was different.”
Croson said he thought Pledger would be the No. 4 running back as a freshman, behind two seniors and a junior. Didn’t take long for Pledger to make the jump to No. 2 and then to be a starter by the seventh game of his freshman season.
It was Pledger’s versatility that made him such a commodity. He answered every challenge Croson and the Chaminade staff gave him. He could run low. He could change direction, and he also could catch out of the backfield.
And he had to learn quickly. Croson said this year’s offensive line is going to be special for Chaminade because, well, they had to grow up in a hurry. Playing an inexperienced offensive line forced Pledger to show how special he can be.
“He rushed for a bunch as a 10th grader,” Croson said. “Last year he pretty much did everything. His toughness helps him stand. His ability to take shots and keep his feet going.”
Film does a good job of telling you what you need to know about Pledger as a player, but Croson is able to give a glimpse into Pledger as a student, as a teammate and as a person.
“He’s not a complainer guy,” Croson said. “He’s not a me-me guy. He’s a good kid. When he was here, this is a good academic school. He took seven tough classes and was in class with kids that will be going to Ivy League schools. It wasn’t easy, but he was successful in a tough academic environment.
“He’s a good student. A polite kid, good kid. His mom is awesome. There is a lot of her in him as far as his demeanor goes. Bubbly, polite. He has some of that, but then he’s just a different guy when he puts on the pads.”
One of the toughest things to get a high school star to do is to learn to do the little things. Everybody loves the highlights, loves running for touchdowns. But to succeed at the highest of levels, learning the intricacies of the game is vital.
“Blocking,” said Croson about Pledger’s biggest improvement in the last year. “He could already run, change directions and cut. But he became a better blocker in the last year, and it’s not easy to get them to do that.”
Croson said he’s not worried about Pledger’s frame. Listed at 5-foot-9, Croson said that is absolutely accurate, but Pledger’s size won’t hinder him.
Croson is hoping for the best for Pledger at IMG and said he’s excited to see what Pledger can do when he arrives in Norman.
“He will get better as he moves along,” Croson said. “He’ll learn it’s not all on your back. Sometimes you only get four years. Sometimes he thinks he has to carry the team.
“He’s going to learn patience. Sometimes he tries to make moves in the backfield because he feels like he has to break them every single time.
“Oklahoma is going to love him for how explosive and how hard he is to tackle. He just has this talent for getting away from people.”