Ricky Sapp’s road to the New York Jets has been paved with perseverance and dedication. In a career that started out with certainty of NFL fame and fortune, Sapp, a former track star, would have to hurdle obstacles of adversity just to continue living out his dream.
“People really don’t have any idea what it’s been like. It’s been tough. I was down and out,” he said.
Following a hellish three-year introduction to the National Football League, which included seeing his stock slip from potential first-round pick to fifth-round after thought, a grueling rehabilitation with his right ACL and having his heart questioned, Sapp has found a home in New York.
“I’m glad I made it through the storm and playing with a great group of guys.”
Once a 5-star recruit from Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School (SC), the freakish talent tallied 152 tackles and 22 sacks in his junior and senior seasons. The three-sport letterman was a speed rusher with a knack for a burst off the line of scrimmage. He was rated the number one weakside linebacker in the country out of high school and had many offers from some of the nation’s top collegiate programs including Clemson, Oklahoma, NC State, Florida State and Georgia.
Backing up Gaines Adams in Clemson, Sapp played in every game his freshman year before being named the starter his sophomore season. With his junior year filled with expectations of greatness, he suffered a torn right ACL — never fully re-cuperating from the injury. He admitted to playing through his senior season at sixty percent and his draft stock suffered because of it.
The Philadelphia Eagles selected him in the fifth round in the 2010 NFL Draft, in a move that was considered by many draft experts as a steal. The only thing that was stolen, however, was Sapp’s time in the pros. He re-injured his right knee during preseason and missed his entire rookie campaign. The following season Sapp was released from the Eagles after continuing to have problems with his right knee. Reports were swirling around the team that he had “quit” on his teammates after not showing up to training camp. Sapp denied those reports.
“I would never in my life just quit,” he told BleedingGreenNation.com, an Eagles blog. “I’ve just been dealing with this knee for a long time and I bust my behind to get it back right and it just gives me more problems.”
The Jets, who have a marked propensity for plucking “unwanted” players and turning them around, signed Sapp to their practice squad on October 31, 2011. He’d be cut and re-signed before eventually making the active roster for good on December 29, 2011.
Sapp was candid in reminiscing about his long road to where he currently stands.
“It was definitely a hit to me mentally – it was a long fall down. But, like I said, I had to re-focus. I had to get back to being healthy. It’s been a long road. I’ve been blessed to be around a great group of people and great organization,” he said.
Now fully healthy, the battle-tested edge rusher has the pieces in place for a breakout 2012 campaign with the Gang Green. One of those pieces is training camp roommate and traveler of a similar path, Aaron Maybin, a Penn State standout and first-round pick by the Bills only to be hampered by a series of bad timing and unfortunate events.
“We have a great relationship. Learning from him and seeing what he did last year, he’s been a great help. He’s always helping me out,” Sapp said.
Maybin, looking for an increased role after breaking out with the Jets in the second half of last season, sees a little bit of himself in Sapp.
“When you look at us, from a body-type standpoint we’re almost exactly the same type of guys – height, weight and speed in particular. He’s got a chip on his shoulder just like I do. He’s had to prove himself his whole career. We really identify with each other. I’m one of his biggest fans,” Maybin said. \
With Rex Ryan stating the expected possibility of Maybin’s role increasing in 2012, Sapp seems poised to assume the role of Ryan’s vaunted DPR (designated pass rusher). Since the team has opened camp at SUNY Cortland’s facilities, he has been nothing short of impressive — consistently putting pressure and collapsing the pocket on the second unit.
For Sapp, who has yet to make an impact in an NFL game, he humbily relishes the opportunity to fulfill the dream he had since high school.
“I’m still trying to get better. I just want to help out where ever I can.”
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