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Thursday, September 2, 2010 - 12:17pm

Grandson of famed civil rights activist leads Westminster

When he takes the field each Friday night, Ralph David Abernathy IV is just trying to help his team win. But he stands for so much more.
The Westminster School star running back is not only counted on by his teammates to be a playmaker, he is also looked at as a leader by classmates and members of the community. After all, his grandfather was Ralph David Abernathy, a civil rights leader whom Martin Luther King, Jr. called his best friend.

Many children with famous family members tend to try to go their own way and avoid comparisons, especially when those family members are their namesake. But how does Abernathy view sharing the name of a famous father and grandfather?
“It’s definitely something I want to live up to,” Abernathy explained. “I don’t want to be the weak link, I would say. My father was a state senator and my grandfather was very prevalent in the Civil Rights movement and I feel like I have to live up to that legacy because I was given the name. My little brother doesn’t have it and my little sister doesn’t have it. It’s something that I have to carry on my shoulders.”
Despite being in high school, Abernathy has already taken steps to follow in the very large footsteps of Ralph David Abernathy Sr. and III. He is not only known as a leader on his team, but also at his school. Letting his actions do the talking, Abernathy does the little things to help make his team and school a better place.
“First and foremost, Ralph is a tremendous leader for our team,” said head coach Gerry Romberg. “He’s a not real ‘rah-rah’ guy, he’s a guy that leads by example whether it’s in the locker room or on the field. (He does) the little things. He’s always making sure that the lock room is clean. He’ll be the last one in there cleaning it up. He does things that you wouldn’t think someone of his ability level would be willing to do those types of things.”
When the stress of attending an elite private school and playing on a Class AA top 10 football team gets to some of the other Wildcats, the player his teammates refer to as simply “RDA” knows how to lighten the mood.
“Ralph’s a good leader,” said Wildcat quarterback William Linginfelter. “He leads well by example and he’s a good vocal leader. He’s well-liked around campus and he’s kind of a prankster.”

As valuable as he is off the field and in a leadership capacity, Abernathy’s skills on the gridiron are what sets him apart from the competition. The senior running back combines blazing speed with superior field vision to make plays for the Wildcats.
“Ralph is unbelievable,” said Linginfelter. “He makes my job as a quarterback a lot easier because if you ask any defensive coordinator out there that we play, he’s probably their biggest concern. He draws so much attention from defenses that it makes my job as a (passer) a lot easier. He can get you out of a hole. If you’re in a third and long or get a penalty, he can get you out of it in one play. He’s amazing.”
Abernathy not only makes his quarterback’s job easier, he makes his coach feel a lot better about his team’s offense.
“He has the chance to take the ball the distance every time he gets his hands on it,” said Romberg. “If you can give him a little bit of daylight and hold your blocks for just a second and he gets to the second level, he’s going to make something happen. He has tremendous big-play capabilities. He can get us out of some jams and make some big plays in the running game and the passing game.”
In fact, the 5-6, 153-pound dynamo is valuable to his team even when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands.
“What we have to do is sometimes use him as a decoy, because (teams) key on him so much, to get the ball in other people’s hands,” explained Romberg. “For example, the other night (against St. Pius X) we sent him on a swing pattern to try to get a play to the other side of the field, because we knew St. Pius would key on him.”
In that game against the Class AAA, No. 4-ranked Golden Lions, all Abernathy did was score two first-half touchdowns, rush for 107 yards on 15 carries, and catch three passes for 14 yards in his team’s 20-12 upset win.
But that performance was just another day at the office for the senior, who totaled 1,501 yards last season on 184 rushing attempts to go along with 14 rushing touchdowns. Also in 2009, Abernathy returned two punts for a touchdown and caught five touchdown passes. In his career at the Buckhead private school, Abernathy has rushed for 2,064 yards and 19 touchdowns as well as catching 46 passes for 563 yards and eight scores.

Due to his remarkable high school career and tremendous skills on the football field, Abernathy is being recruited by several big-name football programs. Ole Miss, Cincinnati and Air Force have offered Abernathy a full ride while Stanford, Tennessee, Georgia Tech and Duke has also shown interest.
“I’m sure he’s going to get a lot of opportunities,’ said Romberg. “I’m sure he’ll pick the right school for him. I know that he’ll look for a school that is a great opportunity for him academically as well as athletically.”
Where does Abernathy see himself next year? The senior is going to take some visits to determine his college choice.
“I’ll probably visit Ole Miss, probably visit Cincinnati, and might take a visit to Tennessee and see if I can take a visit out to Stanford” declared Abernathy.
But for now, his sights remain set on one goal.
“The best season I could have is for us to win the state championship,” said Abernathy. “That’s the number one team goal for me and the rest of the seniors. We’ve dreamed about this year since the 7th Grade and it’s finally here.”