Ogletree takes his own path to stardom

This story appeared in the Atlanta edition of the November ESPN RISE Magazine.

Alec Ogletree had his trip to stardom all planned out.

As a freshman, Ogletree envisioned using his size (6-foot-1, 195 pounds at the time) and exceptional athleticism to earn a spot as a wide receiver on the Newnan (Ga.) varsity football team. Then he'd make a pit stop at a Division I powerhouse and emerge as a Heisman Trophy candidate. To top it off, he'd become a go-to guy in the NFL and eventually cop a Super Bowl ring or two.

Now a senior, Ogletree is still on the path to stardom. He made the Newnan varsity as a freshman, and he has the Cougars primed for a run at the Class AAAAA state crown this fall. After that, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder will begin Phase 2 of his ascent at Georgia.

"This is my last year -- I'm just trying to ball and go all out," says Ogletree, the nation's No. 5 safety and No. 34 overall recruit in the ESPNU 150.

Hold on. Safety?

You read that right. Ogletree's plan took a serious turn during his freshman year when a bit of chance set him on a whole new course.

"I saw him in the weight room (with the varsity players)," recalls LaVarrett Pearson, Newnan's co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. "I told him, 'Son, you need to stay with me and don't go to the ninth-grade group.' The other coaches didn't know about him till they saw him on the field."

Ogletree didn't think twice about moving up. It was the big break he'd been hoping for. At the next varsity practice, he laced up his cleats with the team's vets.

But possibly a little overanxious to show he belonged, Ogletree joined the wrong personnel group and migrated with the defensive backs instead of the receivers. Eager to find a defensive playmaker, Pearson certainly wasn't going to jump in and correct him -- especially after Ogletree picked off a pass during a scrimmage in one of his first practices.

"The offense always gets all the players," says Pearson, still reveling years later in the good fortune that steered Ogletree to his side of the ball.

Ogletree's promotion caught his classmates by surprise. Even his twin brother, Alexander, was left wondering, "Where's Alec?"

"I was on the ninth-grade team, and I never saw him [at practice]," says Alexander, now a senior linebacker. "I guess he was in the right spot at the right time. He just capitalized."

Pearson was instrumental in getting Ogletree acclimated to playing defense, teaching him the different coverages and how to be a leader in the secondary. Alec also worked tirelessly with Alexander, a hard-hitting defender throughout his career, at adjusting to the other side of the ball.

Alec quickly proved he could hold his own as a freshman and earned playing time on special teams to begin the year. But the transition didn't come without some bumps in the road. During one kickoff, a wide-eyed Ogletree was caught off guard near the sideline and got walloped by a blocker.

"I thought the play was over," says Ogletree. "Someone just came and wiped me out. I promised to never get hit like that again."

Ogletree rebounded from the hit to post a solid freshman season and become a fixture on defense, even starting the last few games of the year. Whenever the Cougars were in need of a big tackle they looked to No. 39, who attacked ball carriers like a Madden player just discovering the Hit Stick.

"Having [his presence] back there intimidates a lot of offenses," says Pearson. "It's a big luxury having someone like that with that ability."

Ogletree elevated his play on defense as a sophomore while emerging as one of Newnan's special teams stars. He recorded six blocked punts -- returning one for his first high school touchdown -- and showed a propensity for making game-changing plays.

"He just has a knack for running through people," says second-year head coach Mike McDonald. "He's always knocking guys' helmets off. But his ball skills, he doesn't get enough credit for that. He usually does something big each game."

Ogletree continued to flourish last season, posting some ridiculous numbers in leading Newnan to the Class AAAAA state semifinals. He racked up 75 tackles, three interceptions and six more blocked punts.

His play induced a barrage of scholarship offers from some of the nation's top schools, and Ogletree eventually settled on staying in state to run with the Bulldogs.

"It just felt right to go and commit there," Ogletree says.

Another decision that felt right was his choice to return to playing receiver -- in addition to his duties on defense and special teams -- in his final year of high school. McDonald was elated to have Ogletree establish a presence on offense.

"He can turn a five-yard hitch into a 40-yarder in a heartbeat," McDonald says. "He's too good of a talent not to have him on the field. You get him against a corner and we feel like we have a good shot to win that one."

McDonald's words proved prophetic in Week 2 this fall, as Ogletree burned a Chapel Hill cornerback for a 31-yard TD reception in a 41-0 win.

It was his first offensive score, so Ogletree was unsure what to do next. Should he spike the ball? Perform a jumping back bump with a teammate? Maybe break into the "Stanky Legg" dance?

He elected to celebrate by simply pointing to the stands where his family was sitting.

"I credit my parents for my success," says Ogletree. "They taught me that nothing is ever given to you, to be humble and to not get a big head."

Good advice to carry with him as he continues along his path to stardom.

David Auguste covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.