Glen Padgett, the head football coach at Concord High School, said he had a pretty good idea that senior defensive tackle Rick Sandidge was going to be special way back when Sandidge was a freshman.
Padgett has a habit of not letting his ninth-graders do too much live work with his upperclassmen because he worries they are not seasoned or strong enough, having just come from middle school. But in about the middle of Sandidge’s freshman year, Sandidge ended up rushing the passer in an 11-on-11 drill and he was heading smack for Spiders senior tailback Rocky Reid, who was 215 pounds of muscle and ran for nearly 8,000 yards in his high school career.
Sandidge met Reid in the backfield with a big thump – and a standoff ensued. Padgett, standing there watching, was amazed.
“When he took on Rocky, well, that was something our players didn’t like to do. “This was a 215-pound senior who brought it on every play. That tells you a lot about (Sandidge). That was two brahma bulls butting heads, a freshman taking on an all-state performer, and him not backing down says a lot about Rick’s mentality and was a good sign for us moving forward.”
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Sandidge has turned into the player Padgett forecast. Today, Sandidge is a 6-foot-5, 290-pounder who is ranked No. 11 among all defensive tackles in the class of 2018 by 247 Sports, and he’s ranked as the No. 134 player overall.
But there’s a slight problem with Padgett’s coming-of-age story.
Sandidge, now 17, didn’t actually know who he was hitting.
“I didn’t have my goggles on,” said Sandidge, who wears glasses, “and I couldn’t see who it was. I was like, ‘Whatever, go at him. I gotta try to hit him.’ Then, I was like, ‘Dang, I actually did that to Rocky?’ It boosted my confidence and at the same time, I’m like, ‘I will try my best to not do that again because I might not get so lucky like last time.’”
Sandidge, however, quickly developed into the type of player that no one wanted to deal with – in practice or in games.
In October of his sophomore year, Sandidge got his first college offer, from North Carolina, and he became the most heavily-recruited player on a Spiders team that won a third straight South Piedmont 3A conference championship and reached the N.C. 3AA state semifinals. In the offseason, he picked up nearly 20 more major college offers from schools like Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech and was later invited to the Under Armour Future 50, for some of the top rising juniors in the nation.
And in 2016, Sandidge was again a terror in his 11th-grade season, running up 91 tackles and 13 sacks.
“In the last two years, he’s got 26 sacks,” said Padgett, who is 86-27 in eight years at Concord. “And he might’ve had more last year but we played him a good bit of the time as a tackle and you don’t get as many pressures playing inside as you would as an edge guy. But he had a dozen tackles for losses, three caused fumbles, two fumble recoveries. He still caused some havoc in there.”
Sandidge, Padgett said, has a rare combination of size and athleticism. He runs 40 yards in five seconds, as fast or faster than 13 players at his position at the most recent NFL combine. Sandidge can bench press 365 pounds. He can squart 555. Sandidge’s father, Rick Sr, is 6-foot-9. Rick Sr. and his mother Keisha, who is 5-9, played basketball at Barber-Scotia College, a small predominately black school in Concord.
“He’s explosive for his size,” Padgett said, “and he utilitzes leverage really well. He’s big and quick and all that stuff, but to go along with all that, he’s very coachable and he’s become a great leader on this team.”
Concord was 8-4 last season, but suffered heavy graduation losses. Losses include running back P.J. Hall, whom Padgett said ran for nearly 3,000 yards in two seasons, and All-American defensive back Hamsah Nasirildeen, who is now a freshman at Florida State. Hall signed with South Carolina as a preferred walk-on.
So this year, Sandidge is the leader of a team that returns nine starters, but returns just 5 percent of its offense.
“He understands the success the program had when he was an underclassman,” Padgett said, “and he wants to continue that his senior year.”
Sandidge has narrowed his college choices to seven schools – Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Penn State, South Carolina and Virginia Tech – and will probably make a college choice in February on signing day.
“I have no idea about college right now,” said Sandidge, who is planning an official visit to Louisville, which is out of his top seven at the moment. “I want to take as long as I can to make the right decision for me and my family.”
Sandidge said he has a plan, and he plans to follow it: great senior season, college and then some type of professional career.
“I really just want to get my name out there more and have a successful ... senior year, and a successful career in college, and if the NFL doesn’t come, I’ll always have my degree to lean on,” he said. “I’ll major in sports marketing. I always want to deal with sports. I love watching sports and it would be smart do something that you really love, to be honest.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr