No. 15: Ritter’s hard-hitting Sharp dodges career-ending injury

When he awoke, his prayers were answered.

A senior linebacker for the Cardinal Ritter football team, Sharp suffered a traumatic knee injury in the third week of his junior season. Against eventual Class 2 runner-up Trinity, Sharp tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Over the course of the next several weeks he had his knee examined and was told there was the possibility a nerve in his knee was severed. If true, his competitive athletic career was all but done.

 SUPER 30: 2017-18 POST-DISPATCH COUNTDOWN

Sharp, who's played football since his days at the City Rec, was despondent.

“You're telling a kid who's been playing sports his whole life he'd never be able to play no more,” Ritter coach Brandon Gregory said. “When they went in and did the surgery, it was just bruised and not severed. He got the good news.”

It's only been good ever since. No. 15 on the Post-Dispatch's Super 30 countdown of the area's top senior college football prospects, Sharp managed to snag a dozen offers despite his injury. A 6-foot-2 and 206-pound specimen, Sharp showed enough during varsity stints as a freshman, sophomore and in three games as a junior to give college coaches a reason to believe in him.

Among the schools that have extended Sharp an offer are Army, Eastern Illinois Illinois State, Indiana State, Murray State, Northern Illinois, South Dakota, Southeast Missouri State, Southern Illinois, Western Illinois and Western Michigan.

A wicked combination of speed and strength, Sharp has a highlight tape littered with face-contorting collisions. It's not a stretch to call him a sledgehammer with feet.

“I just like to hit,” Sharp said.

 Does he ever.

As a sophomore, Sharp showcased his talents as a defensive end. He finished that season with 79 tackles and 19 sacks. As a freshman he played safety, making 39 tackles.

 Two-plus games into his junior season he made the move to linebacker and had 32 tackles and five sacks, which tied him for the team lead at the end of the season.

Sharp, 17, was just finding his groove at the position when he was lost for the season. But he got enough of a taste to believe it's the best spot for him.

“It wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be,” Sharp said. “It was more thinking and seeing the game before it started. Being there before the play was there. It came to me easy. I think this is my natural position.”

Gregory slotted him in at linebacker, but Sharp's abilities and willingness to help the team any way he can made his loss that much harder to swallow. Ritter, which had high hopes last season, dropped its next two games.

“Last year being my first year I didn't understand all that he brought to the table,” Gregory said. “He was my punter, my kicker, my linebacker, my H-back. I lost four players in one. I lost my emotional leader.”

But he's on the way back. Sharp continues to rehab and strengthen his surgically repaired joint. It's been a long, hard offseason, but he knows it won't be his last season in a helmet and pads. Sharp will get the chance to play college football. Gregory is focused on getting his senior leader back when he's completely healthy. It might be sooner than later, but there is no concrete timetable. Gregory is in no hurry.

“He should be good to go, but we're not going to rush things. We know he can play football,” Gregory said. “He's got some offers and I don't want, as a high school coach, to bring him back too soon and jeopardize his chances of playing at the next level.”

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