Before they enrolled at Penn State, Land of 10 reporter Tyler Donohue spoke with several incoming Nittany Lions players about their recruiting processes. In this edition, we’ll focus on running back Ricky Slade. Be sure to check out our Recruiting Rewinds with quarterback Will Levis and defensive tackle PJ Mustipher.
The success of Saquon Barkley altered the perception of Penn State’s offensive backfield and set a high bar for running backs in Happy Valley. Ricky Slade, a 5-star running back signee who enrolls at the university this month, is considered one of the premier incoming offensive prospects in college football.
Considered the No. 27 overall player in 247Sports’ 2018 composite rankings, Slade is the fourth-highest rated signee of the James Franklin era. He is only slightly behind projected Penn State starter Miles Sanders (No. 21 overall in the 2016 class) among Nittany Lions running backs who’ve climbed aboard during the current coaching regime.
Slade, a scintillating 5-foot-9, 185-pound playmaker, carried several Power 5 scholarship offers by the end of his freshman season at C.D. Hylton (Woodbridge, Va.) High School. He committed to Penn State in February 2017 and signed with the program last December.
Slade tallied 2,785 all-purpose yards and accounted for 40 touchdowns in 2017, earning Virginia’s Gatorade Player of the Year award and first-team all-state honors at running back and kick returner. His ability to impact matchups in a variety of ways has drawn comparisons to Barkley, creating significant expectations for his collegiate career.
“Guys that are able to run like Saquon and Ricky, they have a complete understanding of the field,” C.D. Hylton coach Tony Lilly said. “They have a peripheral vision that’s so broad and just a natural sense — knowing that there’s a body here and I need to make a move. Then there’s the ability to cut at full speed, and that’s a big difference from a back that has to slow down. Ricky has never had to slow down.”
Before the focus shifts to the next phase of Slade’s football career, let’s review our Recruiting Rewind with him from a trip to Woodbridge in March.
Land of 10: I know you’ve heard a lot about Saquon Barkley. What are your thoughts on comparisons and an opportunity to help replace him at Penn State?
Slade: “I’m not Saquon, but I think I can bring in tools that he had — in the receiving game, the kick-return game, and definitely the running game. Penn State explained they want to try to use me in the same role they used him. That’s what [former Penn State running backs coach Charles] Huff told me when he was here, and James Franklin and [offensive coordinator Ricky] Rahne keep informing me the offensive scheme won’t really change for me. … I’m not worried about comparisons. I’m just trying to go up and ball, and whatever happens, happens.”
If you could give younger recruits one piece of advice for the process ahead of them, what would it be?
Slade: “Know the difference between fake love and real love. If coaches really want you — the person — they’ll show it. If coaches just want your abilities, they’ll basically tell you anything — ‘Come to my school and you’ll start right away.’ You’ve got to know real love from fake love.”
What school or schools finished second in your recruitment behind Penn State?
Slade: “I’d say it would probably be a tie between North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Those schools were neck and neck with Penn State.”
So what did Penn State do to gain an advantage?
Slade: “Again, it’s all about that real love. Coach Franklin told me what it was and what it was going to be, how I’m going to be used. That really stood out. Plus, his staff is amazing. They really act like people and treat you the same way. They act like humans instead of coaches who only care about coaching football. They actually want you to be better in life and better in school. They’ll pull you aside and talk about any problems you’re having. They’re invested in you as a person.”
What’s a recruiting rumor that took you by surprise or wasn’t true?
Slade: “That I committed to Ohio State. I think this was going into my junior year. You know how they have the Crystal Ball [on 247Sports]? It was saying on the website that I was committing to Ohio State. I didn’t commit, so I had to get that straightened out. I had some coaches [from other colleges] asking me about it, so I had to clear things up.”
What was a highlight of your Penn State recruitment?
Slade: “The weekend a lot of us commits used official visits at the school [Dec. 8-10]. It felt like a weekend as an actual college student. We were all together and really got to make that brotherhood and bond stronger. We were with each other the whole weekend and had some fun times with the Penn State players. That weekend really helped a lot with our relationships and helped make sure we ended up bringing in [top-10 tackle recruit] Rasheed Walker.”
What is the impact of a Beaver Stadium gameday experience from a recruit’s perspective?
Slade: “I’ve never witnessed anything like it. Having 110,000 people in a whiteout staring down at you on the field is a different feeling, and it honestly made me nervous, like I was about to play myself. Running out onto the field as a Penn State player, I’ll probably still have those nerves. It’s something I’ll probably never get over. It’s an amazing experience.”
Penn State continues to recruit top running backs and it looks like Devyn Ford could be the next big-time addition (Ford committed to the Nittany Lions on May 18). What are your thoughts on Ford and possibly sharing the backfield with him?
Slade: “I know a lot about Devyn Ford. I’m definitely working on him to come to Penn State, and I’ve been working on him for a while now. We have a strong relationship and I’d really like to see him in a Penn State uniform right there with me. We have a lot of similarities.”
If you were in charge of the NCAA, which college football recruiting rule would you add or change?
Slade: “There is a rule that when you sign and go up on campus, you can’t go into the team meetings with the team. I would probably change that because those are your future teammates and coaches, and yet you can’t go in there with them.”