After a season-ending loss to Callaway in the Georgia state playoffs, junior running back Ralph David Abernathy IV walked off the bus upon arrival at Westminster Academy, ready to meet his parents and get home. Head down and still feeling the sting of the loss, Abernathy was pulled aside by a sophomore teammate who put his arm around him and told him that this was now Abernathy's team.
Such is the life of a young man who has one of the most famous last names in Georgia.
His father is Ralph David Abernathy III, a former Georgia state senator and a preacher who is known for community involvement and championing the causes of the underprivileged. Going back even further, his grandfather is Ralph David Abernathy, a prominent leader in the civil rights movement and one of Martin Luther King's right-hand men. Abernathy traveled with Martin Luther King, sharing the podium at rallies and seeing both his church and home bombed by race agitators. Together, they inspired sit-ins and marches, were imprisoned and had their lives threatened on almost a daily basis. Abernathy was even there when King was assassinated. The name Abernathy now adorns countless streets and buildings across the south, including a hall at his alma mater, Alabama State College.
As the son of one of the most prominent leaders in the civil rights movement, former state senator Ralph Abernathy III was often caught up in the push for equality. At age nine in southern Georgia, Abernathy was arrested as part of a "mule train" march en route to a King rally. He was held in a warehouse used by a local municipality to house cars along with 250 other marchers. The conditions, he said, "were inhuman."
Now, the teenage Ralph David Abernathy IV does his marching on the football field, a sign of the racial progress that his grandfather pushed for in Georgia. His second year as a starter at Westminster, Abernathy IV was the vital cog of the team's offense, rushing for over 1,200 yards and 21 touchdowns this season. He's also a hard hitter on defense in the secondary. "I love to hit people," Abernathy IV said. "I just love the contact."
Already, he has garnered some pretty strong interest from the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Boston College, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Ohio State, Penn State and Texas, and he expects offers to begin coming in this spring. Heading to San Antonio this January, Abernathy IV will be a participant in the U.S. Army National Combine. Then in March and April, he will attend a variety of combines and events in and around the Atlanta area. The march toward becoming one of the southeast's top players has begun.
His ability to make plays and constantly churn out yards is the cadence for his success.
"He has great hips and can change direction on a dime. He is explosive at the point of attack, has great vision and finishes every run. Every time he touches the ball, he could break it for a touchdown," said Joe Blauner, director of the U.S. Army National Combine. "Although he plays a good corner, my opinion is that running back is his future at the next level. Then again, he could be a great slot receiver or return guy at the next level in college."
Blauner terms him a "dynamic" player, but the last name on the back of Abernathy's jersey is what is truly most important to him, even more than football. His father, the former state senator and community activist, said that his son does have a burden on his shoulders as he carries a very famous name. Despite being one of the top players in Georgia in the class of 2011, Abernathy IV says that the name does carry great responsibility.
"I definitely feel pressure," Abernathy IV said about his name. "It is a legacy, a legacy that I need to carry, one which I have to carry. I am named after a man who changed so many things down here. That isn't something I can take lightly."
His father says that his son is the embodiment of the family's name and the legacy of change which shaped the tone of race relations in this country. Ironically, it wasn't until 1965 that Westminster had fully integrated as a school. Now it is Abernathy IV, the grandson of a civil rights activist, who is headlining their football program. His father says that "education is the cornerstone" to his son's success, but that doesn't mean that there aren't football dreams for his son.
"I hope someday to make it to the NFL," Abernathy IV said. "I want to use that as a platform to help others and use that status for others."
For a family that knows an awful lot about struggles and overcoming adversity, the key to young Abernathy's rise is simple.
"When the elevator to success is broken," former senator Abernathy said. "Don't be afraid to take the stairs."
He's raw and his mechanics need some work, but Wisconsin's Justin Sinz has prototypical size to throw into a stiff Big Ten wind. Sinz holds offers from Purdue and Southern Illinois and will visit the Boilermakers this weekend. ... Roszell Gayden went the JUCO route for a season and has the size to be a great tackle in the Pac-10, and Cal figures to be in it till the end for the Visalia product. What's impressive about the tackle is his pass protection, especially in blocking the blind side. He visits Oregon this weekend and Cal next weekend. ... On December 4, Rutgers opens a new recruiting lounge, right in the middle of the student section. The lounge will host the most impressive list of visitors for the year, including the underrated Mustafa Greene and Brandon Coleman, a wideout from Maryland with hands like Stick-Um. ... With a big win over Florida State on Saturday, the Gators might be looking to land another knock-out blow to their in-state rivals. Darious Cummings, an FSU verbal, will be visiting Gainesville for an official visit on December 11. He is one of the Seminoles' top recruits and should be a priority for new head coach Jimbo Fisher to lock down. Cummings looks to be a defensive end at the next level.
One of the more intriguing players in the nation is Connecticut's Silas Redd, a solid verbal to Penn State. Redd has outstanding hips and the ability to shift directions in a half-step. An athlete in every meaning of the word, Redd could be a playmaker in the backfield or as a slot receiver on the offensive side of the ball. Redd will join Khairi Fortt, a linebacker also from the "Nutmeg" state, at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January before both head off to Happy Valley.