Best friends recruited to UF
Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 9:41 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 9:41 a.m.
The recruiting process pretty much ended for safety Rhaheim Ledbetter when the longtime Gator fan gave his pledge to the University of Florida back in July.
But that didn't stop his cell phone from ringing and ringing and ringing.
Most of the callers wanted to know the same thing: where's your best friend going?
He was telling the truth when he told them he had no idea what defensive end Jonathan Bullard was planning to do.
“He wouldn't tell me,” Ledbetter said.
Ledbetter finally found out the night before the Jan. 7 Army All-America Game when Bullard called him from San Antonio to give him the long-awaited news.
“I told him I was going to Clemson,” Bullard said. “He sounded a little down. But then he said, ‘Yeah, you've got to do what's best for you. I understand. Just because we'll be at different schools, our friendship won't end.' ”
Ledbetter discovered less than 24 hours later that his closest friend was just having some fun with him the night before.
During a fourth-quarter break in the game, Bullard put on a Gator hat and announced before a national television audience that he was going to sign with Florida on Feb. 1.
Ledbetter was watching back in Shelby, N.C.
“I thought he was going to Clemson,” Ledbetter said. “Then he announced for Florida, and I was just going crazy. I was all hyped up.
“It's exciting. We're going to be roommates at Florida. We talk about it a lot, how much fun it's going to be. It's just going to be real nice to have an extra few years with my best friend, playing on the same team. It's crazy.”
This is the happy ending (or, rather, new beginning) that the longtime friends, neighbors and teammates had been hoping for all along, to end up at the same school.
But it took some time to make it happen.
“I'm glad it worked out the way it has,” said Bullard, a five-star prospect. “I did want to play with him in college, but I was going to pick what I felt was the best school for me. I'm glad it worked out the way it did.”
Finding the right school was an easy call for Ledbetter. He grew up following Florida football and his cousin, Brandon Spikes, was an All-America linebacker for the Gators who played on two national championship teams.
Florida had been his preferred destination for a long time.
“Growing up as a kid, it was the place I always wanted to go,” Ledbetter said. “As soon as I was offered (a scholarship), it was like an automatic.”
The offer came from Will Muschamp at Friday Nigh Lights in July, and Ledbetter accepted immediately. Bullard also was offered, but he was nowhere close to making a commitment to any school.
He had no history with UF like Ledbetter does. But Bullard does have a history with Ledbetter. The two have been best friends since the sixth grade. Once elementary school rivals on the football field, the two have been teammates for the last six or seven years, the last four at Crest High School.
Ledbetter and Bullard live right down the street from each other and are close to inseparable.
“We didn't like each other coming out of elementary school because we played on different youth league teams,” Ledbetter said. “Once we got together (on the same team) we became friends. We've been like brothers ever since.
“We don't do everything together, but most of the time we're together.”
Bullard said they have a friendship that will last a lifetime — even if the two had ended up going in different directions to play college football.
They don't have to worry about that now.
Although Ledbetter has been talking up the Gators to his friend for the past six-plus months (and has directed a few Gator chomps at him in the hallways of the high school), he never put pressure on Bullard to follow him to Gainesville.
“I wanted him to go to Florida, but I told him that at the end of the day he needed to do what he felt was best for him,” Ledbetter said. “I told him that if he decided to go somewhere else, we'd still be brothers.”
The way Bullard kept talking to him about Clemson, Ledbetter started to think his best buddy was going to end up a Tiger. Then came the call from Bullard the night before the Army All-America game that sent Ledbetter into a momentary funk.
“I thought it was Clemson,” Ledbetter said.
A day later, it was Florida.
Now the best friends are headed there together.
“I'm glad it worked out the way it did,” Bullard said. “Maybe it's a sign that we need to be together and achieve our goals together to win championships. It's exciting.
“We've got a strong bond. We've been best friends since the sixth grade. I see him as a brother now.”
And fellow Gator.