When the NFL Draft rolls around starting April 28, Eastside High School will have its first ever NFL draftee as former Eagle Sheldon Rankins is projected by ESPN to be picked in the first round.
For Rankins and his family, this is a lifelong dream come true.
“One thing I have on my wall is a life map Sheldon created back in seventh grade,” said Cheryl Rankins, Sheldon’s mother and a Newton County teacher. “On that map is to play in the NFL, so this is a goal he’s had since he was young.”
Rankins graduated from Eastside in 2012 and went on to play defensive end for the Louisville Cardinals over the next four years, but not many people may know about his original dream position.
“When he came in as an eighth grader, he wanted to play running back,” said Rick Hurst, former Eastside football coach, recalling his first encounter with Rankins. “We kind of told him that we’d give him an opportunity as a freshman, but the offense just wasn’t suited for him.”
Not getting to play the position you covet the most would upset many young athletes, but Rankins accepted his fate with pride.
“The moment that we put him on the defensive line, he just exploded,” Hurst said. “He really could have taken that the wrong way, but he accepted his role and ended up playing on the D-line and obviously had a tremendous career for us.”
Rankins registered 53 tackles and 6 sacks in his last season with Louisville and is one of the highest ranking defensive lineman heading into the draft. He has been praised by ESPN and many NFL teams for his versatility and explosiveness, but another thing he is known for is his polite demeanor.
“He’s one of the best character kids I’ve ever coached,” Hurst said. “Just very quiet, but when he spoke, the other players listened. They had a lot of respect for him.”
As Rankins takes the next step in his career, his family believes he is more than prepared.
“He deserves it,” said his mom. “He’s worked really hard. He’s done the right things the right way. I think he has the right attitude and personality, and I think he’ll be a great leader and teammate. He just wants to play football.”
Though it’s been some years since Rankins has donned an Eagles jersey, the Eastside community still has their eyes on him.
“It’s so fun to watch,” Hurst said. “I keep up with him on Twitter and follow all the ESPN stuff. When his name comes across the bottom of the screen, I just feel so blessed to be around it. The Eastside community is happy, and even though I’m not down there, I’m following him every step of the way.”
The NFL Draft will air on ESPN April 28-30. Many NFL experts online have predicted Rankins will be drafted in the first round on Thursday.