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Eastside grad and New Orleans Saints DT Sheldon Rankins reflects on rookie season
New Orleans rookie DT and Eastside High alumnus Sheldon Rankins makes his first trip back to Georgia as a pro last Sunday in the Saints and Falcons' regular season finale. - photo by Anthony Banks | The Covington News

Sheldon Rankins has been here before.

No, not talking about the Georgia Dome, specifically. And, of course, we know the Covington native has been to Atlanta.

But there’s a particular place that the 6-foot-2, 300 pound New Orleans Saints defensive tackle is well acquainted with – a place he visited once again last Sunday as he limped off the field nursing a foot injury while his Saints faced their bitter rival – and Rankins’ home town team – Atlanta Falcons in the regular season finale for both teams.

After what looked like a routine play on defense for Rankins, the Eastside High graduate and Louisville star ended up leaving the field midway through the game, never to return.

Turns out Rankins suffered what he called “a little strain of my Achilles.” He went for an MRI the next day, and noted that he didn’t expect it to be serious.

It was another chapter to a somewhat injury plagued rookie season for Rankins. On August 15, Rankins went down with a broken fibula during practice. He underwent surgery the next day, and didn’t return until early November against the San Francisco 49ers.

In eight games he’s registered 20 total tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble. Those eight games after injury – and even the injury sustained last week – also did much to remind him of the kind of resolve he’s learned over the years.

“These kind of things, it kind of taught me about adversity,” Rankins said. “Just that adversity is always going to come. Whether it’s where I am now and the injury (Sunday) or breaking my leg in camp or breaking my leg in high school.  Adversity is going to come. It’s all about how you deal with it.”

After referencing his broken leg in high school, Rankins quickly made mention of how what he learned growing up in Covington and carving out the reputation of a budding star at Eastside has sustained him through the rigors of next-level football.

“I’ve dealt with a lot of things in my career already,” he said. “But I’ve always been a fighter. I’ve always been someone who’s gonna overcome things. So I think that’s what really growing up in Covington, and playing for Eastside taught me. I had a lot of great lessons there.”

Perhaps the biggest lesson learned, he said, is that of taking the difficulties and circumstances beyond his control, and using them to provide fuel for achievement.

It worked for him during his four years at Louisville where he amassed 133 career tackles, 31.5 for losses and 18 sacks, good enough to earn him All-ACC honors during his career. And he says he has no doubt that his same tactics of self-motivation will carry him to success at the highest level.

“I don’t think I really got frustrated with everything,” Rankins said. “I’m always a person who has a chip on his shoulder. I think even just this injury just adds fuel to the fire. That’s how I take everything that happens to me. Injuries or whatever it may be. It adds fuel to the fire to come back and be stronger.”

Rankins will now have an offseason to prepare for a breakout “sophomore” year in the league. The Saints were knocked out of playoff contention before their 38-32 loss to the Falcons on New Year’s Day.

And while Rankins wishes he could’ve played more, he also says he’s pleased with just having the opportunity to get back home again – even if it’s in the jersey of the home team’s most hated rival.

“It’s always fun to come back home, regardless for what it’s for,” he said. “As a kid, I always wanted to play in the Georgia Dome, so being able to come back and play against the Falcons, and getting the chance to play here even in my limited role, it’s still really fun.”