When Darlington's Tate Ratledge was told to go onto the football field after school Tuesday, he thought head coach Tommy Atha was going to make the team go through some pre-pre-spring workout.
However there was no extra work needed from the four-star offensive lineman this day. The hard work he had poured into his high school career had already brought him a big reward.
Ratledge was officially invited to play in the All-American Bowl by 247Sports recruiting analyst Rusty Mansell while surrounded by coaches and teammates, earning him the designation of high school All-American as he prepares to enter his senior year with the Tigers.
"It's a great honor and really something I dreamed of as a kid ever since I knew what it was," Ratledge said. "It's something that I have been working towards and I would not have been able to do it without the Darlington community and everybody pushing me, from my coaches to my teammates."
The All-American Bowl, formerly the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, annually features the nation's 100 best senior football players, making it one of the elite exhibitions of the country's top high school talent.
Ratledge will travel to San Antonio, Texas, in January and play in the game Jan. 4, 2020. The game, which is scheduled for a noon kickoff, will be televised live on NBC.
Atha was excited for Ratledge but also the Darlington football program as a whole, as Ratledge is the school's first All-American and just the second Floyd County player to be selected for the game.
"Individual accolades are a result of team accomplishments," Atha said. "Tate has worked very hard in the weight room. He enjoys the grind of it and stays active all year long. He plays basketball to keep his competitiveness up, and all of that has enhanced his athleticism as he has grown."
The 6-foot-7, 308-pound Ratledge has been heavily recruited through his junior year, with offers from Georgia, Tennessee, Auburn and Alabama just to name a few. The all-state lineman put on a display Sunday at The Opening Atlanta regional, impressing analysts and evaluators from across the country.
Ratledge emerged as the overall MVP of the combine-style event, earning the Alpha Dog label after displaying his quickness and strength against some of the best defensive linemen in Georgia and beyond.
"It was a place for me to go prove myself," Ratledge said of the event. "Coming from a single-A, private school, I feel like I have to show people that I can go up against the top competition. It was a big deal."
Mansell was joined by All American Games national recruiting director Erik Richards for Tuesday's announcement and official invitation. Mansell is a member of the All-American Bowl selection committee and a Floyd County native.
"It's tough to give individual awards when football is such a team sport, but everybody on this team, all the way down to the freshmen, are a part of this," Richards said. "We like to associate with good people, and Tate checks all of the boxes."
Ratledge joins 2018 Rome High graduate Adam Anderson as the only two All-American Bowl selections from Floyd County. Anderson is a freshman outside linebacker at Georgia.