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Penn State Football: Ricky Slade Is Keeping the Faith

by on December 26, 2019 4:10 PM

ARLINGTON, Texas — Ricky Slade looks tired.

He's in the corner of the Dallas Cowboys' locker room just soaking it all in as his teammates field questions. To his right is punter Blake Gillikin, laughing as always. To Slade's left are three fellow running backs, a trio of Devyn Ford, Noah Cain and Journey Brown.

And Slade just sits there with a smile.

But he still looks tired.

It has been a long season for the sophomore. He came to Penn State a highly-touted prospect. To many he was the heir-apparent to Miles Sanders, the third in a line of prolific runners who have reshaped the perception of Penn State's ability to manufacture NFL caliber talent in the backfield.

Then it didn't happened — well, at least not the way Slade might have pictured it. He started, but he struggled. He got his chances but for whatever reason the holes never emerged, the running lanes didn't seem quite as wide as they were for his fellow backs. 

In turn he fell by the wayside, his role in the rotation slowly diminished, his status as the "next" guy largely forgotten in favor of far more efficient production from the trio above. Penn State hasn't updated his bio to reflect any performances beyond the first three games despite having a carry in seven of the next eight games. Fans that once wanted to see Slade are less enthusiastic about his usage.

This wasn't how he planned it. This wasn't how it was supposed to go.

"I just learned to be more patient during the season. When things aren't going your way, that's not necessarily a bad thing," Slade said with a smile. "I'm not upset. It's still a great feeling to go out there in Beaver Stadium and watch people I work with every day, go out there and play the game that I know they're capable of and I know they haven't stopped believing in me, coaches haven't stopped believing in me. So it's just things I've got to work on to get back on the field."

Often forgotten in the binary world of fandom is that so much can go on behind the scenes: girlfriends can break-up with you, there can be a death in the family, classes might not be going great. Or maybe you're just disappointed that things haven't broken the way you might have liked.

Life, much like football, is not as simple as it seems.

"I feel like, it took me a while to find myself again during the season," Slade said. "I would say that the last two games I kind of found myself again. So I'm enjoying my life, I'm enjoying my time here, I'm cool. I found myself again, so there's no problem here with me."

Does he plan on being at Penn State next season? Another go with a packed room of backs? 

There is a pause.

"Yeah I do."

Words of promise and planning are rarely taken without some grain of salt, especially in a world where the transfer portal exists, but Slade seems genuine in his delivery, steadfast in his conviction that playing at Penn State is the thing he wants to do and that it is a thing he will do. Slade still shows glimpses, a burst here or there. Failure to burst onto the scene at the appointed time is not proof that it will never happen, simply that it won't happen now.

So he, like teammate Journey Brown once did, keeps the faith.

"Last year, he was playing a lot more than I was and I had my thoughts and I had my doubts and stuff but he helped me through it and talked to me," Brown said a few seats away. "Everything happens for a reason, just telling him to keep his head down and keep working. In my opinion I think he's one of the best backs out of all of us. I know he didn't have the season (he wanted) but he's just gotta keep powering through that stuff and when he gets his opportunity take advantage of it."

But Slade still looks tired. As quarterback Sean Clifford would later point out, if you aren't tired or hurt, you haven't been playing. Football beats you up a bit; life beats you up a lot.

"I'm happy to get back on the field on Saturday, one more time with my brothers, especially at AT&T Stadium, that's always a great feeling. The season has been long, it has had a lot of ups, a lot of downs, I'm not saying I'm happy it's over but at some point you need a break...but I'm just focused on this game on Saturday."

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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