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When you spot Andrew Sledd in uniform, the number on his back reminds you of a famous Chicago Bear.
And when you watch the Highland Park senior run the football, it conjures up thoughts of Sweetness.
Sledd wears the number of his football hero, the legendary Hall of Fame running back, Walter Payton. His bulldozing, bruising style is not a function of happenstance.
“I try to run physical like him,” the 5-foot-10, 165 pound Sledd said of Payton. “I like to run fast and finish my runs. Run on top of people.”
Or, as he did Friday against Lake Forest, run over or around defenders. The Giants’ leading rusher in 2011 when he finished with over 900 yards, Sledd added 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason. His 285-pound bench press and 420-pound squat was evident in the second quarter against the Scouts when he rushed for 92 of his team-high 105 yards.
On his best run of the night, an option play, Sledd took a pitch from quarterback Tommy Sutker, shed the first Scouts defender and burst into the second level for a 40-yard gain.
It was the type of run that showcased Sledd’s added bulk and speed.
“He ran really hard tonight. Normally when he gets in the open field, he scores a touchdown,” Highland Park coach Hal Chiodo said.
Sledd might have scored if he was at full strength. A high ankle sprain suffered early in summer workouts prevented him from practicing over two-a-days. He wasn’t cleared to play until the Monday before the Giants’ opening game against Elk Grove Aug. 24. After rushing for 45 yards on 11 carries in that game, Sledd was more a part of the game plan against Lake Forest.
Not just a single back runner, Highland Park plans to use Sledd more in the slot and line him up wide in shotgun formations. The hope is to disguise just where and how the Giants will use him and force match-up problems for defenses. Having scored just one touchdown in two games, the Giants know it’s a work in progress.
“We are not very diversified on offense,” Chiodo said. “We are trying to be so defenses can’t just key on him. So we move him around to get him the ball in different places.”
Very much like the Bears did with Payton. First seeing the former Bear in a highlight tape when he was a Little Giants youth football player, Sledd was immediately smitten.
And you know what they say about imitation.
“Definitely when I’m finishing off runs and being physical and getting that style of running down,” said Sledd of when he emulates his hero Payton on the football field. “I want (defenders) to not want to tackle me. If I finish on top, they can’t.”
That would be sweet indeed.