Ricky Person Jr. doesn’t feel the same pressure as a year ago, and it’s showing every Friday night on the scoreboard.
Person enrolled at Heritage last year with a great deal of hype, but an injury in the fourth game of his junior year put him under a different kind of pressure: to not use it as an excuse. The people who had to know about Person’s high ankle sprain did: his family, coaches, the medical staff and his teammates.
“My teammates knew what I could do, but that’s football. Injuries happen, but I’m a running back and it comes with playing the position,” he said.
But fans, scouts and opponents were less aware of why Person wasn’t blowing by defenses or putting up the numbers of a four-star N.C. State recruit, or a highly-anticipated transfer from Franklinton. He had to bite his lip to avoid coming across as looking for pity. Playing with that pressure to perform, but not being able to, took a toll.
“He’s such a tough kid,” Heritage coach Dewayne Washington said. “He won’t make excuses, but he had a high ankle sprain all year.”
You could forgive him if he had used it as an excuse, or at least an explanation.
Person ran for 102, 120 and 183 yards in three games (405 total, 135.0 per game) before his injury and just 369 (41.0 per) in the other nine games he played in.
He missed two weeks but still wanted to make an impact somehow. So the 6-2, 205-pound Person lined up as a third-down pass rusher – where he didn’t have to put as much pressure on his ankle – and made 17 tackles, 1.5 for loss with one sack and a forced fumble that teammate Drake Thomas returned for a touchdown in a second-round playoff win at Pinecrest.
Person took the offseason to heal, and came into this season without anything weighing him down. His team hasn’t needed him on defense except in desperate situations – of which the 8-0 Huskies have not found themselves in often.
“He’s healthy, and he’s hitting (the hole). He’s looking good,” Washington said.
In eight games this year, Person has 1,673 yards – averaging 209.1 per game – for 28 touchdowns. He’s added another 194 yards receiving and three touchdowns. He leads the state in total touchdowns (31) and is fourth in rushing yards.
“Now it feels like I’ve got a new ankle,” Person said. “I just wanted to show people what I can do and what I’m capable of ... I’m playing with a purpose this year.”