By Brandon Brigman
BUFORD - T.J. Pridemore was already on the radar of a lot of college football programs before his senior season.
But when college coaches saw the tape from Class AA quarterfinals against Charlton County, the Buford linebacker went from a speck on radars to a blimp.
Pridemore made 12 tackles, including two for losses, in the Wolves' 26-7 loss to the eventual state champions, but he proved he could track down the speedy skill position players of Charlton County.
"He became a bonafide big-time player when you saw him against those skill kids from Charlton," Buford head coach Jess Simpson said. "He's big and tough enough to play inside and he's fast enough to be on the edge and that's a different combination. You don't see 6-2 guys that are 235 that have the burst and change in direction that he's got."
Pridemore's recruiting began to pick up after that game and Division I offers came from many SEC and ACC schools.
With Pridemore's ties to West Virginia, where his dad played in the late 1970s and is now in the Mountaineers Hall of Fame, and to Duke, where his brother is a defensive back, many thought he would choose one or the other. But in the end, the linebacker, ranked No. 26 by Rivals.com and No. 31 by Scout.com, went in a different direction, committing to Georgia Tech earlier this month.
"I had to pick somewhere that was best for me and that's one of the harder decisions, knowing that my brother, and I'm close to Ryan Wood, are up there (at Duke) and I'm close to both of them," Pridemore said. "That was the hard part about that."
Now that the recruiting is out of the way, Pridemore is just ready to focus on the season. A three-year starter at linebacker, Pridemore once again has the luxury of two big defensive tackles in Notre Dame commitment Omar Hunter and junior Dallas Lee to take on blocks to let him roam free.
"You've got guys in front of you like Omar and Dallas, I think they do a great job keeping guys off you," Pridemore said.
"But it's kind of frustrating at times when Omar and Dallas are making plays before I can get there. They're taking all my plays away from me. That's the only downside I have with guys that good in front of me," he said with a smile.
He'll return to his strong side linebacker spot where he notched 115 tackles last season, along with adding some middle linebacker duty this year. Pridemore also made the move from fullback to tight end to give the Wolves a better shot a winning more games this season.
"There's no doubt he's our most intense defensive football player," Simpson said. "He was kind of born to be a linebacker. He's a hard-nosed young man, who plays with a lot of emotion and passion. He's an exciting kid to watch."
At 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, Pridemore is the kind of linebacker coaches dream of having anchoring their defense. He benches 340 pounds, squats 485 and cleans 345, which is the kind of strength you would expect out of a future ACC linebacker.
"Any high school coach would give anything for a linebacker like that," Simpson said. You don't get those guys everyday. We've had other guys that are great linebackers, but I don't know if we've had any that have the combination of size, strength, speed, intensity - he's kind of been a little bit of all of them."
Pridemore's combination of speed and strength remind a lot scouts of his dad Tom, who played for the Falcons from 1978-85, a bruising safety who constantly laid guys out.
"I don't feel like I have any of that (pressure of having an NFL father) on my shoulders," Pridemore said. "I kind of feel like I'm here to do my own thing. We play different positions. Everybody says we have a similar playing style."
Pridemore is anxious to display his hard-nosed style to the rest of the country. Buford was selected to play in the Kirk Herbstreit Challenge and will take on Grove City (Ohio) on Saturday at the Pro Football Hall of Fame stadium.
A big-time game on a national stage, it gives Pridemore another chance to stand out.
"He's the kind of guy that plays his best when his best is needed," Simpson said.
SideBar: THE PRIDEMORE FILE
Who: T.J. Pridemore
Favorite movie: "300"
Favorite food: Seafood
Favorite athlete: Brian Urlacher
Favorite musical group: Nickelback
' Committed to Georgia Tech earlier this month
' Had offers from Ole Miss, Mississippi State, N.C. State, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia
' Buford's top returning tackler with 115 stops last season
' Son of former Atlanta Falcon Tom Pridemore
' Brother Matt is a defensive back at Duke