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Eric Aldridge: “Beating a Different Drum”

By Barry Every
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The 6-foot-4, 295-pound lineman was named First Team All-Region as a junior and was selected for the Rising Senior Georgia Junior Bowl.

Former Hinesville (Ga.) Bradwell Institute Head Coach Ross Couch recently became the new man at Americus (Ga.) Americus-Sumter. In Couch’s two-year stint at Bradwell he led the Tigers to 11 wins and one playoff appearance. On the surface that sounds a bit mundane, but in the previous six seasons prior his arrival the Tigers managed just ten total victories.

It hasn’t been much better at Americus-Sumter either; the Panthers have managed just three winning seasons since 2004. Making matters worse the schools has gone through eight coaching changes since 2008.Prior to the merger of Americus High School and Sumter County High School; the Panthers captured back-to-back GHSA-AA State Titles in 2000-2001.

One player Coach Couch will be counting on to pave the way up front, in his run-oriented offense, is senior Eric Aldridge, Jr. The 6-foot-4, 295-pound lineman was named First Team All-Region as a junior and was selected for the Rising Senior Georgia Junior Bowl.

“The staff and I have watched a lot of film on last season’s team; with his limited experience he has quickly picked up the concepts of football,” Couch said. “He’s a senior with sophomore experience, I mean just one year of football – ever!  To be this athletic and physical while picking up the game so quickly is amazing. His potential to be really, really good in a short amount of time is incredible.”

What makes his accomplishments even more astonishing is the fact that it was his first year of organized football. As a freshman and sophomore Aldridge was a percussionist in the school band. He still takes part in the Americus-Sumter Jazz Band. Aldridge is also a member of the varsity basketball team where he plays power forward.

“It’s true, his first year was last season and he has really embraced the grind which is high school football in Georgia,” Couch said. “This young man is determined to take the path of doing everything the right way. He has a lot of energy and leads by example. He is actually showing the rest of the team how to make positive decisions and he is simply an all-around great kid that wants to exceed in life.”

He is no slouch in the classroom or weight room either. He currently sports a 3.1 core GPA and recently took the SAT on May 4. Aldridge boasts a 320-pound bench, 455-pound squat and a 250-pound power clean.

Aldridge currently holds scholarship offers from Georgia State, Illinois State, Mercer, Notre Dame College, Southeast Missouri State and Tennessee State. He is also receiving heavy interest from Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech, Mercer, South Alabama, Troy and Wofford.

He has already made unofficial visits to Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Mercer, South Alabama, Troy and Wofford with plans on visiting Coastal Carolina very soon. His lone camp last season was the Champions Elite Camp in LaGrange; he plans on attending again this year as well as hitting the Mercer Mega Camp.

“Eric’s development over the next six months will eventually decide what level he will play college ball at,” Couch said. “How quickly he advances in run game concepts will determine his future and we are going to be run heavy this year. He has the talent to play at the highest level; with a big senior year he could pull in some major offers. We are just so excited about the opportunity to mold him into what he needs to be.”

But what was it that made this jumbo athlete decide to suddenly play football? Remember he was once in the stands beating out the rhythm of school spirit.

“Everybody kept asking me to go out for football, eventually Coach Harrell convinced me to go out,” Aldridge said. “After my first practice I wasn’t sure if I’d continue, but after several practices I really began to like it. Bottom line is you really like things that you’re good at, that’s why I committed to playing this game.”

Though Aldridge is very excited about the possibilities of playing football at the next level, turning things around at Americus-Sumter is in the forefront.

“I feel I’m a pretty good leader that leads by example,” Aldridge said. “If I mess up on a play I blame myself; I’m not going to blame other people around me. We have to hold ourselves accountable, especially in the weight room, no skipping reps. Last year’s team had too many individuals and not enough teamwork.”

Americus-Sumter is already in the middle of spring ball, they will finish with a scrimmage versus Macon (Ga.) Southwest on May 17 at 7:00pm. This final extravaganza will be held at the Ed Defore Sports Complex just around the corner from Macon (Ga.) Westside. College coaches will be able to witness at least one lineman embracing the rhythms of gridiron madness.