New Georgia linebacker commit Ryne Rankin (Orlando, Fla./ East River) is a throwback to another era of football, when toughness and grit mattered more than spread options and 40 times. Speaking with him evokes images of leather helmets and players like Bronko Nagurski. Rankin likes to hit people, and he learned it young.
“Back when I was probably 7 years old, I was at football practice and going against a kid that was maybe 10 years old, way bigger than me, and he kept hitting me and knocking me down,” Rankin said. “My dad kept telling me to get up. ‘Get up, boy.’ I remember that. So I kept getting hit by this kid and I was crying and I was mad -- I didn’t want to play football anymore. My dad said, ‘Run right at him and put your face mask right between his numbers.’ And I did that and the kid fell on his back and he started crying. I said, ‘I got this now.’ Then I started hitting people. I looked up and my dad was smiling.”
Rankin’s father is still proud of his son and star player. Marc Rankin is the head coach at East River and has watched his son develop into a devastating inside linebacker.
“Ryne is an old-school football player,” Marc Rankin said. “He led the state of Florida in tackles last year as a junior with 189. He is the first guy in the weight room and the last to leave.”
When he is not in the weight room, Ryne Rankin’s vigorous nature has led him to a rather unusual pastime.
“I go catch hogs with my teammates,” Rankin said. “It is an adrenaline rush. We go out there with dogs and they find the hogs. Then you send the catch-dog in and once it grabs [the hog] by the face, you run up and grab the hog by its legs, flip it over and stab it and kill it. Sometimes we keep them alive to transport the hogs. Once you kill it, you have to tote it out of the woods. Sometimes we are 2 or 3 miles from the truck and you have to carry some 225 pounds all the way there. It is a workout, an offseason workout for me.”
Rankin scoffs at the plethora of new television shows that focus on feral hogs.
“Those shows are not like what we do,” Rankin said of the hog hunting, which is sometimes done as wildlife management. Rankin and his teammates, however, use the hogs as food, often delivering them to families in need. “We will run a hog down through 800 or 900 yards of muck and nastiness. We will crawl through briars and bushes and stuff like that. On those shows some of that is staged. When we get out in the real stuff, it is pretty dangerous. You get nervous.You can hear the dogs in there and the hogs snorting around, fighting the dogs. You can get cut up. My friend’s dad got cut up and needed 80 stitches. They are mean. But if you can tackle a hog you can tackle a running back coming at you.”
Catching the Sunshine State’s best tailbacks must indeed seem easier in comparison.
“There were some games where Ryne had 22 or 23 tackles,” Marc Rankin said.
It is that type of hard-nosed fearlessness that will stand Rankin well in the SEC, and why he racked up double-digit offers from programs across the nation. Well, that and the road trip he took this spring.
“Me and my dad traveled 3300 miles,” Rankin said. “We went from the University of Florida and then to the University of Georgia. Then we went to N.C. State. From there we went all the way up to Penn State. We stopped by Pittsburgh and drove back down to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Florida State and back home. So I have seen mostly all the schools that I wanted to see.”
The trip netted Rankin a new batch of offers, including a few from programs not on the itinerary. Penn State, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Texas A&M and Ole Miss all offered the rising senior. But the following week he got his offer from the Bulldogs, and he quickly pulled the trigger.
“The Georgia coaches were excited,” Rankin said. “They had had one other commit earlier that day and once I told them, they were even more excited. They had offered me the day before. I had gone home, sat down and talked with my family to make sure it was right. I felt comfortable and they knew I felt comfortable, so I committed the next day. Probably a little less than 24 hours.”
His time in Athens, as short as it was, sealed the deal for the tackling machine.
“I felt like the University of Georgia was a great place for me,” Rankin said. “I have been to many places all over the country and I just felt that Georgia was the right place. I like the country atmosphere because that is me; I live out in a rural area. The coaches seem like great people, the players that are there seem like great people -- even the town. They have a great fan base that loves the Georgia Bulldogs.”
Rankin, who has a 4.0 grade point average, ESPN 150 member Johnny O’Neal (Dublin, Ga./West Laurens) and Reggie Carter (Snellville, Ga./South Gwinnett) are the three inside linebackers in the Bulldogs’ 2013 class.
“Georgia didn’t bring in anyone last year and they will likely bring in three to four this year,” Rankin said. “I will be an early entrance guy so I will be there next January. I will compete and hopefully play some next year.”
Peach State hogs beware.