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May 17, 2012

Gaulden highlights in-state class of 2014

All the AAU national track medals --- and there are more than a couple --- suggest that Rashaan Gaulden could almost certainly bridge the gap in two years from multi-sport high school standout to dual-threat collegiate athlete.

But the Nashville native, who has starred on the national scene in track and field competition while seeing his football profile increase with his every camp appearance, will instead focus solely on football when the time comes. Until then? No sense picking. Gaulden's got a handle on both.

"I've never been a gold medalist nationally, but I've got a silver, a bronze and a bunch of copper medals from nationals," said the articulate Gaulden, a 6-foot-1, 178-pound safety who emerged last season as a standout at Brentwood Academy. "I've been running track since I was like 6 or 7 years old. I'm a big-time track guy. But, I'll stick to football (at the collegiate level). I'm good at track, but when it comes down to it, I'm more in it for football."

The same could be likely said of a pair of Gaulden's biggest AAU track rivals, Evan and Elliott Berry. Gaulden estimates they've waged double-digit battles on tracks throughout the Southeast.

"Oh yeah. We always go at it when we run. Those are some good twins," said Gaulden, who specializes in both the 400-meter and 800m competitions. "Man, at least 10 or 15 (races against the Berrys). When we see each other, we know who we are but we don't speak because we're in that competitive zone and trying to beat each other."

That statement, more so than any other, best sums up the mentality Gaulden similarly deploys on the football field. A gifted athlete who prides himself on being a student of the game, Gaulden relishes the contact portion of roaming the back-end of the defense.

"All my life, I've pretty much been a safety since my eighth-grade year. I watch Ed Reed, study him on YouTube and try to be a ballhawk like him," Gaulden explained. "I would say my strengths are my hard hitting ability, coming up and delivering big blows on wide receivers and running backs. Just watching Ed Reed come up and stick other players and wanting to play like that.

"I'm really good at noticing what kind of schemes offenses are using. Being able to use that to just warn my teammates about that and tell my coaches about that so we can adjust. My field awareness is really good also."

It has showed in recent outings for Gaulden, who was among the standouts May 6 at the IFM Camp at Father Ryan High School in Nashville. Though those events oftentimes tend toward an offensive advantage, Gaulden repeatedly stood tall against some of the Midstate's top wide receivers, including Josh Malone and Andre McDonald, among others.

"It really challenges me mentally just to see how I compare to those guys and see what kind of stuff they do, coverage-wise and being able to match up against some great wide receivers and competitors," Gaulden said of the camp scene. "It's definitely getting me better for the season coming up, and I'm going to get out as much as can and improve my game. Take some of their techniques and just keep learning."

Where Gaulden will spend next season has not yet been determined. Though he's been at Brentwood Academy for five years, a variety of factors have led Gaulden and his father to seek a new spot for Rashaan next season at a public school.

Until then, he's going to continue hitting the camp circuit and he's a member on the loaded In Full Motion seven-on-seven squad that will compete in Knoxville later this month.

"That seven-on-seven at UT coming up, I'm going to be on Buck Fitzgerald's team. We're going to be loaded. Hopefully contending for a championship there with a bunch of the In Full Motion guys," Gaulden said. "From being able to play with them and seeing them at the (IFM) combine, I know we've got a good bunch of guys.

"And then I'm definitely hitting up some schools. Going to go to Alabama to their camp, I'm definitely going to go to Vanderbilt's summer camp, Tennessee's summer camp, trying to visit Mississippi State. Got a big summer ahead of me."

The athletic, fearless safety has been hearing from a veritable Who's Who of college football programs, noting regular contact and interest from Alabama, USC, Tennessee, Georgia Tech, nearby Vanderbilt and many others. Gaulden already has formed a strong early connection with new first-year Tennessee defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley.

"I got to sit down and talk to him. He said they want to offer me a scholarship. He's a really cool guy," Gaulden said of Ansley. "I really like to communicate with him."

Much like Station Camp's Josh Malone, Gaulden is a rapidly rising 2014 prospect who is expected to be among the top-5 or top-10 players in the state of Tennessee.


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