RUSKIN — Lennard offensive lineman Michael Rankins, who on July 1 committed to play at Georgia Tech next year, is where he is now, coach Matt Kitchie said, because of hard work. That work isn’t just limited to the football field.
When he’s not in the weightroom or on the gridiron, Rankins works as a bagger at Publix. It’s not uncommon for him to put in long shifts, even opening and closing the store on the same day. Perhaps it’s a trait he gets from his parents, Angel Allen and Michael Rankins, who also work long hours as a cook and a car mechanic, respectively, and only miss their son’s football games when they’re on the clock.
When Rankins, who is set to graduate in December, gets to Atlanta in January, the hard work will have paid off in more ways than one. Not only will he be a Division I-A player, but he’ll also be a first-generation college student.
“He wants to be an engineer, and where in the world would you rather go than Georgia Tech?” Kitchie said. “It’s not like everybody goes to Georgia Tech. I really think that young man will get an education that will change his family.”
Football might be taking Rankins places now, but four years ago, that possibility was nowhere on his radar.
Rankins didn’t play a down of football before stepping on campus at Lennard as a freshman. As a kid he thought about playing flag football, but Rankins said he was overweight and in no shape to be running around protecting a flag. So he turned to video games.
When he got to high school, though, Rankins decided to give football a try. After all, Rankins, now 6 feet 5 and 290 pounds, already had size going for him.
But when it came to the game itself, Rankins soon realized he had a long way to go.
“I sucked. It was bad,” he recalled. “But I was brought up under two really good coaches. I’m what I am now because of them.”
Kitchie is quick to give that credit back to Rankins.
Rankins was extremely coachable, Kitchie said, and he did what he was supposed to do in the weight room. He got stronger. And in the classroom, Rankins was always on track.
“As much as his size is God-given, he’s got a tremendous work ethic,” Kitchie said. “His strength is his athleticism. For 6-foot-5, 290 pounds, he moves. On the football field, he moves differently than everyone else, with a grace and ease.”
The Longhorns haven’t necessarily been known for their electric offenses as of late, and Lennard has just four wins in the three seasons Rankins has been on the team. But last year, Rankins was instrumental in helping the Longhorns get their run game off the ground. With Rankins blocking for him, Tino Hunt had one of the best yardage totals in the area, amassing 1,607 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Hunt knows it wouldn’t have been possible without Rankins.
“It’s nice because I feel like he’s got my back, and I’ve got his back,” Hunt said. “(The offensive line) made sure they got what I needed every game, so they did their part.”
It won’t be long before Rankins takes off for Georgia Tech, where he was also heavily recruited by fellow Yellow Jackets commit and current Plant quarterback Tucker Gleason. Until then, Rankins’ primary goal is just to play in every Lennard game this season and soak up his last days of high school ball.
Because the biggest goal of all, the opportunity to be the first in his family to get a college education, has already been achieved.
“It’d be amazing,” Rankins said about going to college. “Nobody else has done it, so they’d be really proud of me.”