Opening invite in hand, Ricky Slade Jr. has gone from phenom to big-time prospect

(Photo: Jim Halley, USA TODAY Sports).

Opening invite in hand, Ricky Slade Jr. has gone from phenom to big-time prospect

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Opening invite in hand, Ricky Slade Jr. has gone from phenom to big-time prospect

CLIFTON, Va. — It took only four high school games for Hylton (Woodbridge, Va.) running back Ricky Slade Jr. to draw national attention. He he had eight touchdowns in a game (five on the ground, two receptions and one kickoff return) to be named the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Player of the Week as a 14-year-old freshman in 2014.

Slade, now a junior, showed first impressions are sometimes correct. Sunday, he garnered one of the four invites to Nike’s The Opening at the D.C. Regional event.

“That’s all that I’m here for,” Slade said. “I just want to ‘Get Open.’ I’ve seen it on TV and it’s something I really want to do. That’s something that could help my game at the next level, just learning with different coaches and players.”

Slade’s biggest attribute on the field has been his speed — he runs a 4.48-second 40 — but he’s worked to make himself more durable. He’s 5-9 and 195 pounds, about 22 pounds heavier than he was as a freshman. He ran for 1,309 and 18 touchdowns as a freshman, but missed four games his sophomore year with a broken leg. Last season, he came back from a minor meniscus injury to run for 1,509 yards and 16 touchdowns and had 338 receiving yards and four touchdown catches. He also ran for 292 yards and four touchdowns in a game and was named first-team 6A all-state.

“As his recruiting happened really fast, I can remember when he received his first offer and telling him, this is just the beginning and he had to stay humble and keep the work ethic throughout this,” Hylton coach Tony Lilly said. “That wasn’t a problem because Ricky is one of the most competitive players out there.”

Lilly, who played four seasons as a defensive back with the Denver Broncos, said Slade has gotten faster as he’s gradually packed on muscle.

“One of the biggest things is he’s continued, along with the weight lifting aspect and muscle mass, is he really focused a lot on the explosion part of the game as he’s put on some pounds,” Lilly said. “I think he’s gotten faster. He gets to 4.4 speed in about four steps and that’s due to his explosiveness. ”

Slade had 26 college offers when he committed in February to Penn State and said most schools have realized his decision is solid.

“I’m not really getting recruited any more,” Slade said. “I get texts here and there from Pitt. I went to Penn State to 10 or 11 times. Probably my ninth time up there, I was just looking and thinking, ‘I’ve been there so many times, why wouldn’t I go there.’ It’s just everything I wanted in a school.”

Lilly said Slade kept his recruitment low-key, one reason he was able to make the jump from freshman phenom to college prospect.

“A lot of these young players that are getting a ton of attention, they get focused on the attention part,” Lilly said. “Ricky never fell into that. It wasn’t about that for him. It really was about him getting better. He never got caught up all in that hype.”

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