On the final day of summer workouts last week, Lawrence High’s football team moved from the weight room to the gridiron for a 110-yard conditioning test at 8 in the morning.
Junior Amani Bledsoe was not fazed.
The Lions ran from the back of an end zone to the other side in 20 seconds, 16 times in a row, with less than a minute’s worth of rest in between sprints.
With the defensive backs running on the left side of the field, linebackers in the middle and linemen on the right, Bledsoe started with the linebackers and eventually found himself surrounded by defensive backs.
Running next to the fastest players on the Lions’ roster, the 6-foot-5, 270-pound lineman kept up and proved what most of his coaches and teammates already knew — he will push himself to be his best.
“He can run. It’s amazing,” LHS coach Dirk Wedd said. “He’s strong as a bull and has great quickness. But he can run. You don’t see that in a (6-foot-5), 270-pound kid at this age. And then the other thing is, he’s tenacious. He’s actually got a little bit of a mean streak in him. You wouldn’t know that because he’s quiet as all, and he’s a 3.7 (GPA) student and all that kind of stuff. He’s just one of those kids whose motor runs hot all of the time.”
Bledsoe, an offensive tackle and defensive end, is one of the quietest players on the football team, but he lets his game do the talking.
He matched up against some of the nation’s best in college camps throughout the summer, and he shined. Bledsoe picked up scholarship offers from Kansas University, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and North Carolina State, while Rivals.com notes Alabama, Florida State, Notre Dame and many other schools have expressed interest.
“He doesn’t want to be the best player on the team. He doesn’t want to be the best player in the Sunflower League. He’s got higher goals than that,” Wedd said. “Having said that, he’s the most team-oriented kid I’ve ever seen. He cares about team-first, so pretty special kid — one that doesn’t come along very often.”
After dominating all summer, a few college recruiting analysts are predicting Bledsoe will be the next great football player from Kansas. Rivals.com ranks him No. 13 among strongside defensive ends in the class of 2016.
Nobody would know it by the way he carries himself around his teammates, who usually just call him “Moose.”
“It originated when I moved to Lawrence my eighth-grade year,” said Bledsoe, who moved from Wichita. “I didn’t go to one of the schools here. I went to school in Oskaloosa, where my mom worked. Some of those guys just called me ‘Moose’ in eighth grade, and it stuck.”
With Bledsoe’s unique combination of size and speed, it didn’t take long for his teammates to realize he had the potential to become one of the best in the league.
“Freshmen year, we didn’t even start him the first game (on the freshman team), and I was like, ‘This kid is, like, 6-5, coach what are you thinking?’” junior running back and cornerback JD Woods said. “Then the second game, he started against Shawnee Mission Northwest, and the quarterback was running around the corner, and I was like, ‘He’s going to hit him, he’s going to hit him,’ and he hit him with an elbow, and the kid flew away.”
If track and field is any indication, he can dominate anything he sets his mind to doing. In his first year of track last spring, he finished eighth in the shot put at the Class 6A state meet.
Last fall, Bledsoe started for the Lions’ varsity football squad as a sophomore, as a 15-year-old, earning recognition as an All-Sunflower League honorable mention.
Now he’s focused on helping LHS improve from last year’s 3-6 record. He’s always pushing his teammates to improve with him.
“He’s a hard worker. We lift together on squat,” Woods said. “Usually he’s like, ‘Let’s go up,’ and I’m like, ‘Amani, no! We’re on our second set.’ He’s like, ‘No, we got this,’ and we just go up like 20, 30 pounds. I think one day we were squatting like 300 (pounds), and we got to like 350 on the second set ,and I was looking at him like, ‘What are you doing?’
“I’ve never seen anyone who works that hard,” Woods added. “His work ethic is just really good. I’m pretty proud of him. ... It’s a pretty good feeling knowing that I have one of the best defensive and offensive linemen on my team in the state of Kansas.”
After a whirlwind summer, Bledsoe is proud of what he accomplished, but he has his eyes set on dominating this season.
“It feels good that it’s starting to come together what you’ve worked for,” Bledsoe said. “Also, I’m not done yet, but just to see the results is nice. … I’m very happy with this summer. I proved a lot.”