For one thing, the new linebacker was a marked man when he first took the field, getting caught up in a practice scrape or two where his new teammates tested his manhood.
“Even the offensive line coach said they had a bull’s-eye on him. Don’t get punked by the new kid,” laughed Rankin’s father and head coach at East River High School in Orlando, Fla., Marc Rankin. “But he handled himself very well and he said after the first day of practice, he was almost immediately accepted into the group because he didn’t back down, he played hard, he was hard-nosed and that’s just who he is. He’s the lunch-pail kid.”
Even if he had to go through an initiation on the practice field, Rankin’s opportunity to participate in a handful of bowl workouts was valuable because it provided an early opportunity to begin learning Georgia’s terminology and scheme.
“It’s good that he’s here, it’s good that he’s learning stuff,” inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said at the time. “He’s a serious kid and I just want him to be better by [Christmas break] than he was when he got here for this little short period of time. It all matters, so it’s good.”
He and Reggie Carter (Snellville, Ga./South Gwinnett) are two of the Bulldogs’ four committed inside linebacker prospects who enrolled earlier this month in order to begin taking classes and to participate in offseason conditioning and spring practice.
An outstanding student, Rankin has been preparing for an opportunity to enroll early since eighth grade, even before his coach and father felt confident that his son would become a major college prospect. But Ryne convinced his dad once and for all that big-time football was in his future during a playoff loss to Lake Gibson High School as a sophomore.
“We lost 24-16 or something like that and their coaches had nothing but great things to say about him, and then I turned the film on and I was just floored,” Marc Rankin said. “He must have made 10 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and I’m talking like 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. He played a [heck] of a game that game.
“From that game on, I knew he could play in the SEC because they had speed and he was tracking kids down. He was impressive to watch on that film. So I started pushing him a little harder and it worked out.”
At No. 296 overall, Rankin is an ESPN 300 prospect and the No. 13 inside linebacker, but he’ll have plenty of competition for playing time among his new teammates and fellow signees to take over some of the playing time vacated by Alec Ogletree, Michael Gilliard and Christian Robinson. Returning starter Amarlo Herrera will have to break in Rankin, Carter, fellow commits Johnny O’Neal (Dublin, Ga./West Laurens) and Tim Kimbrough (Indianapolis, Ind./Warren Central) -- and maybe uncommitted superprospect Reuben Foster (Auburn, Ala./Auburn), should he elect to sign with Georgia.
Rankin got a head start with those December practices and if his dad is sure of anything, it’s that his son will immerse himself in Georgia’s defensive scheme between now and the season opener at Clemson and find a way to contribute as a freshman in some capacity.
“Like I told him, that’s completely up to him. He’s there and he has to prove himself,” Marc Rankin said. “If he proves himself in spring ball and he does what he’s supposed to do over the summer, he’ll be on the field somewhere. I’m not saying he’s going to be a starter or anything, but if somebody goes down, he would fill in without a problem.
“He’s going to push himself to try to be the starter, I’m 100 percent sure of that, but he’ll bust his butt on special teams. Anything that they ask him to do, I’m sure he’ll give 100 percent.”