USA TODAY has been recognizing the nation's top high school athletes for more than 30 years. As we look forward to the 2014 American Family Insurance Preseason ALL-USA Football Team next fall, we'll dig into the archives and check in with ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades. Today, we’re catching up with St. Louis Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree, who was an ALL-USA player for Newnan, Ga., in 2009.
When Alec Ogletree hit the field for his first NFL preseason game last season against the Cleveland Browns, he was understandably nervous.
Not only was it his first pro game, but it was only the second NFL game he had been to in person and he was still adjusting to the Rams’ 4-3 defense.
As an outside linebacker, he had to cover more territory than he had while at the University of Georgia, which uses the 3-4. He was picked on early as Ogletree missed an assignment on a catch that set up a touchdown. He was also torched on a touchdown catch by Dion Lewis.
“I would say you have to be on your P’s and Q’s a lot more in the NFL,” Ogletree said. “You have to be on top of everything you do. That first game against Cleveland, I got caught looking at the quarterback twice when my man caught the ball. I definitely calmed down after that.”
Of all the players on the 2009 ALL-USA high school football team, Ogletree has had the biggest impact so far in the NFL. He started every regular-season game for the Rams and led the team with 155 tackles, a team rookie record. Ogletree is 6-3, 242 pounds, runs a 4.7 40-yard dash and is a hard hitter, so he has all the physical tools he needs for his position. Still, there was a lot to learn his rookie season.
“I took a lot of pride from trying to learn from the older guys,” Ogletree said. “I try to feed off them and pick their brains. I had to learn a new scheme, playing a step back. I just tried to work at it and work at getting better.”
Newnan football coach Mike McDonald said Ogletree’s talent was obvious even as a high school freshman.
“When I walked in here, the spring of his ninth-grade year, it took me five minutes to see that he had it,” McDonald said. “You could tell he was going to be a special player. He’s certainly lived up to that. With the pros, you always hear about whether college players hit the wall late in the season. He didn’t do that. He kept getting better every week. That speaks volumes of where he was at and his commitment.”
One reason for Ogletree’s NFL adjustment is he played safety for much of high school.
“He played well in space,” McDonald said. “We put him back there in single safety. He ran downhill and made plays. We thought about moving him to linebacker, but we had three good linebackers and he was so valuable for us at safety. He erased everything on the back end. Nobody wanted to go across the middle on him.”
Following his junior year as a linebacker at Georgia, where he had 111 tackles in 10 games, Ogletree was drafted at No. 30 in the first round.
He would probably have gone higher, but for some off-field issues. He was suspended for games twice while at Georgia, the first time for swiping a scooter helmet and the second for failing an offseason drug test. But what really hurt his draft stock was when he was cited for Driving Under the Influence a week before the NFL Combine.
“That all got blown up a bit,” McDonald said. “He’s a good young man. He did a couple of bone-headed things, but who all didn’t at that age? All I know is we are all pulling for him here. That ought to speak volumes. He was very well-liked by his peers and his teachers.”
Ogletree maintains his ties in Newnan, fishing in nearby lakes, working out at the high school and visiting family, including his fraternal twin brother, Zander, who is two minutes older but smaller at 5-10 and 225 pounds. Zander is still a student at Georgia. He had played for three seasons with the Bulldogs as a fullback but left the football team before last season, citing undisclosed medical reasons.
Now, with a pro season under his belt, Alec Ogletree said he’s better prepared than ever.
“Being able to understand the concept of the defense, I’m able to go out there and just play more my game and not have to think so much about what I’m doing.”