Among the most exciting prospects in what could turn out to be a loaded 2018 recruiting class for Penn State is running back Ricky Slade.
Slade, a rising senior at C.D. Hylton High School in Woodbridge, Va., is considered the top prospect in the state and the best all-purpose running back in the class. For the Nittany Lions, his arrival is particularly exciting because it likely coincides with Penn State’s current star running back, Saquon Barkley, making his exit into the NFL after this season.
Fair or not, the comparisons to Barkley will be ever present for Slade. The two are similar in size with Barkley listed at 5-foot-11, 220 pounds and Slade checking in at 5-foot-9 and a little less than 200 pounds. The style and skill sets are similar too, and thus far it looks like the talent is on par as well.
To Slade’s credit, he appears to be taking it all in stride, looking to Barkley as a role model and mentor as he prepares to step into the limelight of big-time college football. Recently, Slade was among the standout performers at The Opening, a prestigious nationwide recruiting event and the young back appears to have a nice mix of confidence with a willingness to learn.
“I’ve been talking to him for a while now,” Slade said of Barkley in a video posted on PennLive.com. “He’s like my older brother. We have that bond. Just to see him come out here (to The Opening) and watch me work, that means a lot.”
Assuming Slade can add a few pounds of muscle over the next year or two, it could it up being downright spooky how much he resembles Barkley in the iconic Penn State uniform.
Both players possess the kind of breakaway speed that means they’re rarely going to be caught from behind, but it’s more than speed that separates the solid ball carriers from the greats. Each player is strong enough to break a few tackles on their own, but what’s noticeable when you start comparing videos of the two is just how hard it is for defenders to even get in position to make a tackle.
Perhaps even more impressive than their sheer speed is how well both Slade and Barkley move side to side with the ball. Shiftiness is a word that gets thrown around to describe many running backs, but Slade, like Barkley, has an uncanny ability to throw would-be tacklers off balance without losing his own.
A low center of gravity is part of it, but there’s also incredible vision at play. Barkley and Slade both see holes and how the play is developing as well as any college back you’ll find. That’s how they find themselves in the open field for big gains so often to begin with.
But the field vision doesn’t stop once they break through the line of scrimmage. You can tell how each back views the field as they approach the secondary and they rarely have to make big, flashy moves avoid defenders. A small shift of weight or adjustment of speed makes all the difference.
It’s too early to say Slade is going to have the career Barkley has at Penn State, but it’s also easy to see why his commitment to the Nittany Lions has eased a bit of anxiety about what the post-Barkley era might look like in Happy Valley.