Defensive linemen are massive people. But don't let their looks deceive you. They're also incredibly athletic. The best defensive linemen possess a unique combination of size and speed needed to battle with offensive linemen, disrupt quarterbacks and stuff the run.
Based on what we saw from Sheldon Rankins during one of his training session at EXOS Los Angeles, he definitely fits the bill.
The 300-pound defensive tackle from the University of Louisville was explosive and moved fluidly on the field. As he sprinted by us during speed drills, we thought it was remarkable to see such a big guy move so well.
Rankins' skill set is not going unnoticed, and he can expect to hear his name called on the first day of the 2016 NFL Draft. After impressive junior and senior seasons for the Cardinals, Rankins dominated on the field at the Senior Bowl, solidifying his position on the Draft board.
STACK caught up with Rankins after he completed his workout at EXOS to learn about his journey to the NFL.
STACK: What's the earliest memory you have of wanting to play in the NFL
Sheldon Rankins: I remember this like it was yesterday. I was sitting on the living room floor watching the Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans. Kurt Warner, Steve McNair going back and forth. I remember sitting on the floor thinking that I loved this game—and that's the day I said I wanted to play in the NFL.
What's your favorite football memory?
I was a huge Michael Vick fan. I had all the jerseys, all the shoes. I remember every Sunday making sure I was home on time to record his games and re-watch them.
The second one was my freshman year of college when we made it all the way to the Sugar Bowl and ended up beating the University of Florida. That's something I'll always remember. I played on a great team with guys like Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Smith, Lorenzo Mauldin, Calvin Prior, Preston Brown, DeVante Parker—the list goes on of the top guys I played with who are contributing to NFL clubs right now. We were real close, and just being able to go down and take it to a team like the University of Florida that has so much history—everybody was counting us out. No one thought we had a chance at all to make it even close. We went out and shocked the world, and it's something I'll always remember.
What's the biggest play you ever made?
Probably this year, I had a scoop and score against Boston College. I remember the exact call...remember everything. The corner came off the edge blitzing and made a strip fumble. Part of me thought to jump on it. Part of me was like pick it up and make something happen. As soon as I picked it up and secured it, the first thing I'm thinking is, "OK, I need to get two steps in the ground and make sure no one is around me." At that point, I let God handle the rest and I ended up scoring a touchdown. It was my only collegiate touchdown. It was fun and was the highlight of my collegiate career.
What motivates you?
My mother. Growing up, my mother has been an inspiration to me as far as the way she has busted her butt to take care of me and my siblings. Doing whatever she had to do to make sure we were fine. Those images stick with me throughout my life, and it's something I carry with me each day I come out here and work. It's always a constant reminder for why I'm pushing to be the best.
What obstacle have you overcome during your football career?
It's not one particular thing. It's probably a collection of things. Coming out of my senior year of high school, I fractured my right fibula. A lot of schools decided to take their offers back, and it brought me back to the drawing board as far as where I'd be attending college. By the goodness of God, Louisville stuck with me and gave me a shot.
Even when I got to college, different injuries here and there kept me out and kept me on the sidelines for periods of time.
My college career didn't exactly start the way I wanted it to. But I'm a firm believer in putting your head down and work, and good things will come to you. So that's what I did, and my last two years were prosperous. I was able to go out and contribute to the team and the team's success in a big manner. And here I am today training at EXOS, so something worked out.
What was it like recovering from the leg injury?
Recovering from that injury was tough for me. I never had a serious injury. I've rolled my ankle here and there, but nothing to cause me to miss significant time. So to break my leg at such a critical time in the recruiting process ... it was hard for me to accept the fact that my senior year was over and I couldn't play football any more that year. It sucked to know a lot of these schools didn't think I was going to be the player they thought I could be. I prayed about it day after day, and it ended up working out for me. It worked out for the best.
How do you want to impact an NFL team?
I want to have an impact in multiple areas. I obviously want to contribute on the field and go out there and be productive ... just making plays and contributing to a great team. Second thing is being impactful in the community. I come from a pretty small community. Everybody knows everybody. I'm all for giving back to the community. Giving to the kids or whomever may be in need. Those two things are what I want to bring to an NFL club.
Take us through your day-to-day routine here at EXOS.
I usually get up at about 6:15 a.m. and get my day going. Obviously eat some breakfast and head to the facility. Get some treatment early in the morning to get my legs back under me. Things like that.
Then we have our first session at about 8 o'clock. It's usually something explosive, working on our starts, acceleration, top-end speed. Pair that with a lift to work out the muscles you use on your starts or acceleration phase. We have a couple-hour break and we eat lunch down in the players' lounge. Then we are back up here at about 12:30 p.m. for our second session of the day, where we usually go pretty heavy in the weight room. After that, you get your treatment in and you're out the door.
It's a fast pace type of day. You're in and you're out. But it's good work and I'm able to see the results.
What has been your biggest area of improvement?
Probably two things: flexibility [and diet]. When I'm playing in college, [flexibility] is obviously something they focus on, but the objective is to win games. Coming out here, flexibility is a focal point because the more flexible you are, the easier it will be to extend on a Broad Jump or get your hips open on the first couple steps of your 40.
The second thing is diet. Being a college kid, you eat what you can get your hands on. Coming out here and having your meals catered. It's good food an
d it's good for you. It gives you great energy. Those two things have really changed for me.
We heard you have a big Squat. Do you like to squat?
Squatting is one of my favorite lifts. I always tell people that the Bench Press is something that came late for me. I just happened to get strong one day. I woke up and it happened. But Squats and Cleans have always been something I've been pretty good at.
Squatting is an explosive lift. You're exploding from your glutes, hamstring and quads. And that directly correlates to on-field explosion. Exploding out of your stance. Exploding through your hips. Things you'll use on the Broad Jump, Vertical Jump, 40 and in games. It directly correlates to football.
You studied Exercise Science in college. Has that helped with your training?
Exercise science is my major and it helps a lot going through this process. I've studied a lot of the muscles and what they do and why things fire and why some things don't fire in certain positions. Being able to come out here and have coach explain something to me, I'm able to put a picture in my mind about why that's best. I'm able to go out there and walk through it in my mind and put it forth on the field and actually see the difference.
What advice do you have for young football players?
Don't give up. Everybody's path is different. Some guys take the big Division I route. Some guys go Division III. Some guys have to go to junior college. If it's your dream and it's something you're truly passionate about, don't let anyone ever tell you that you can't do it. Put your heart into it. Put your soul into it. I'm a firm believer if you do all that, God will take care of the rest.
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