Five-star cornerback Elias Ricks has needed to make several decisions during the 2019 offseason, and the decisions aren’t finished either.
The California native decided he wanted to graduate early but needed to leave Mater Dei, a powerhouse program in California, to qualify to graduate in December. That decision would be difficult on its own, but then Ricks decided to transfer to IMG Academy in Florida and move across the country by himself to finish the rest of his high school career.
Now, during his final year, he will be playing for a new team while taking official visits to five schools – LSU, Ohio State, USC, Alabama and one yet to be named – to determine whether he will remain committed to LSU or flip to another program.
He arrived on campus last week and is currently working his way into the football program at IMG.
“He’s a really good kid. He’s a humble kid,” IMG head coach Kevin Wright told Eleven Warriors. “He’s come on campus – our kids are in summer school. He’s in a class, he’s working out. He’s fit in really well. From the way he’s approached things, especially as a senior not knowing a lot of the kids, he’s been able to come in and make some connections. He’s made a good impression on coaches and his teammates.”
IMG has more than 30 newcomers to its football program – including Clemson defensive end commit Demonte Capehart and LSU wide receiver commit Jermaine Burton – after it graduated around 40 from the 2018 roster.
From the moment Ricks stepped onto campus at IMG, he has been learning the schedule and integrating himself into the team’s on-field philosophy.
“It’s parallel to what the college experience is, quite honestly,” Wright said. “They get up, they have to go to breakfast check, they have to go to workouts, they have summer school class, they come back and we’re in meeting rooms doing board work. They go eat, we come back and do more film study. All along the way with the new kids, we integrate them – we have nine different units or nine different positions – each returning kid that was nominated as a leader in the spring has a group of kids that he’s got to get to know and they have to get to know him.”
His roommate, Lejond Cavazos, has been at IMG since his sophomore year. So entering his third year in the program, Cavazos – among others – has worked with Ricks closely to help his transition along. Their relationship dates back to before Urban Meyer retired as Ohio State's coach and Cavazos was committed to the Buckeyes the first time. Ricks was ready to commit too, they both told Eleven Warriors at The Opening Finals.
If Meyer hadn't left the program, Ricks might be committed to play in Columbus now, he said. There was a time when communication between Ricks and the staff wasn’t quite as strong, but that time is in the past now; Jeff Hafley, who is rated as the No. 3 recruiter in the 2020 class at the moment, and Cavazos have ramped up their efforts in trying to get Ricks to flip his commitment and become the third cornerback in Ohio State’s 2020 class.
Cavazos, who decommitted from the Buckeyes after Meyer's retirement before recommitting in April, said he understands that it’s a process when a head coach leaves a program.
“It’s just the fact that he has to get to know the coach and restart everything over,” Cavazos said. “I relate to that. Obviously, some work needs to get done on that, with the coaching staff getting to know him, even though they’ve done a great job on that. They talk to him every day. I talk to him every day. I think we’re in a really good spot.”
Cavazos is in it for the long haul now, and he will need to be for Ricks, who appears to be extending his recruitment deep into the cycle. His official visit to Ohio State is scheduled for Nov. 22.
While Wright won’t point to only Cavazos as an influencer on Ricks at IMG, the Ohio State commit has certainly made himself known within the program and is in his comfort zone with an incoming friend joining him. The IMG staff intentionally spreads players out so that they’re constantly around different members of the team, but when it comes to understanding what it takes to live and play at IMG – something Wright compares to being in a college football setting – Cavazos is one to turn to.
“Lejond’s been here since he was a sophomore so when you come that early – he had to grow up quick,” Wright said. “Lejond can talk about the sacrifice that you may not understand when you’re thinking about making a move to a boarding school. All the things you sacrifice from leaving your family to, I mean, we have a lot of rules. They need to be in their rooms at 9:30 every night and then lights out at 10:30. Just adjusting to that and understanding that the sacrifice is worth it. Being here at such a young age and sharing the same goals and the same dreams, that probably helps Elias along the way.”
Sleep become more important than breakfast when you living on yo own— Ricks (@Eliasricks2020) July 23, 2019
In the one semester and one season that Ricks will be at IMG, Wright said he hopes Ricks can develop in ways that will prepare him for the college level, to get him ahead of other prospects in the 2020 class. But Wright also said that Ricks has put himself in the position he's in, one that is hard-wired for success in the short-term and creating stepping stones for the long-term.
“He’s been preparing himself for a situation like this, where he can be away from home and the personal growth that goes with that, that you can’t gain unless you actually do it,” Wright said. “From his standpoint, it’s giving him a platform where he can continue to grow personally and improve as a football player and as a student-athlete and be ready when he graduates in December to step on campus in January and to be ready to compete at the Power Five level.”
As for the odds of him flipping to Ohio State, Ricks hasn’t been specific, but he said he doesn’t feel any pressure to make a decision soon and doesn’t feel any pressure to make a decision at all, since he’s already committed to LSU.
But simply being the best cornerback committed to LSU won’t keep him from looking at other places with top talent committed, like Ohio State, which already has commitments from Cavazos and No. 4 cornerback Clark Phillips.
“It could be 500 cornerbacks committed,” Ricks said. “If that’s the school for me, I don’t fear competition. I always think I’m going to be the top dog wherever I go. I’m always going to come in thinking I can beat these guys out, and those are my guys. But that’s not going to affect me.”