Tedarrell Slaton got his first scholarship offer from the University of Miami about a month into his freshman season.
That was roughly 15 months ago. Now a 17-year-old sophomore, there isn’t a school in the Southeastern Conference that isn’t salivating over the 6-6, 320-pound offensive tackle.
Coach Mike Rumph at Plantation American Heritage knows the next two years are going to be crazy with the number of college coaches and teams recruiting Slaton. But it is a nice problem to have.
“The coaches at Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss tell him he looks like some of the boys they have now,” said Rumph, a former cornerback at UM. “TJ reminds me of Bryant McKinnie. Being a Hurricane, Bryant was just so athletic and big. It was hard to get around him.
“TJ’s biggest upside is that his laziest days are a lot of people’s best days. He can go halfway, half motion and probably handle some of the best defensive linemen in the state. The beauty of it is he lines up every play and plays the heck out of it.”
The youngest of six children and the only boy, Slaton had never played offensive line until he got to Heritage last year. But little by little he has become one of the best young prospects in the country, the guy who calls out blitzes and protects star quarterback Torrance Gibson’s blind side and the anchor on a dominant Patriots offensive line.
Heritage, which has gone 10-3 against a gauntlet of a schedule after winning its first state title last season, hosts No.2-ranked Orlando Bishop Moore (13-0) Friday night in a Class 5A state semifinal. The Hornets hardly have the star power or track record the Patriots do. But Heritage offensive coordinator Mario Perez said, “They’re a hard-nosed team.”
“They’re going to come at you. They’re big. They’re strong,” Perez said. “But again, if we read our reads and make our calls, we firmly believe everything we do is about us and not our opponent. We control our own destiny.”
That has been the theme for Heritage all season. Since getting smashed 38-7 in the season opener against Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas — a game in which the Raiders’ dominant front four hit Gibson a lot — Heritage has averaged 39.6 points per game. The Patriots have upped that in the playoffs to 50 points per game.
“What we did [after Aquinas] is we went back and looked at the film play by play and showed them the mistakes, and then we asked them, ‘Was it something [Aquinas] did or something we could have controlled?” Perez said. “Pretty unanimously most of the players realized if they did what they were told we would have been OK. At that point they realized it’s really not about our opponent, it’s about us. It was a great learning experience for our staff, our players; it was a humbling experience.”
Especially for Slaton, who had a rough night against Raiders star end Nick Bosa. Slaton has since recovered nicely against some top-flight competition. Of the 10 teams Heritage played in the regular season, two are in the state finals (Delray American Heritage in 3A and Jacksonville Bolles in 4A) and three more are playing in state semifinals Friday (Aquinas in 7A, Apopka in 8A and Daytona Beach Mainland in 8A).
“When TJ showed up on our campus as a ninth-grader, he got thrown into a spot as a freshman on a talent-laden time. He was asked to learn principles and concepts that he had never heard,” Perez said. “Now, he’s one of the leaders on our offensive line. The future is only going to get brighter for him.”
Slaton, who bench presses 355 pounds, said there are times when he wishes he could play defense “so I can try and score.” But he said he loves protecting his quarterback’s blind side (Gibson, a left-handed passer, is committed to Ohio State) and opening holes for a running game averaging 189.3 yards per contest.
“I wouldn’t really say I’m the leader [of the offensive line yet],” Slaton said. “We have [6-4, 310-pound left guard] Noah Bringas, who has been here four years. But for me it’s been fun. To be in my second year, coming off winning a state championship and going for another is great.”
Bringas and Slaton were the only returning offensive line starters from last year’s team. The new additions were right guard Fedner Petit-Holmes (6-3, 285, Sr.), center Louie Berkowitz (6-3, 285, Jr.) and left tackle Brett Kahn (6-4, 270, Sr.).
As a group, Perez said, they’ve given up less than a handful of sacks this season.
“I know the common thought out there is we’re a big-play offense,” Perez said. “The difference between this year and last year is that last year we had the ability to make an average play look great because of the talent we had.
“Isaiah [McKenzie] would take a 2-yard screen pass and go 60 yards. [Michel] Sony would bounce one around the corner and go 60 yards. We really don’t have those type of players this year. Both of those guys are at Georgia. This year, we have to run the extra play in order to be successful. And we need the offensive line to play well.”