With a sense of awe, Johnathan Terrell remembers his high school days, playing alongside Joseph Ledbetter and watching him wreak havoc on opposing backfields.
Terrell remembers Ledbetter collecting two or three sacks per game from his defensive end spot at Lee County High School in Sanford, North Carolina, about an hour southeast of Greensboro.
The pair have reunited as teammates on Averett’s defensive line, and not much has changed, according to Terrell.
Well, one thing has changed.
“He became more vicious, honestly,” said Terrell, a freshman. “When he plays now, it’s a different kind of player or animal.”
Indeed, Ledbetter has had a quick start to his career as a Cougar, earning USA South defensive rookie of the year and all-conference first-team honors last year as a freshman when he tallied 62 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.
Those five sacks tied him for 10th in Averett history for sacks in one season, and he has built on that impressive start by racking up six more in four games to start this year, including one last week at Greensboro College. He has a chance to add more when Averett (3-1, 1-0 USA South) hosts LaGrange at 1 p.m. today.
His 11 total sacks so far in his career tie him for sixth all-time with Andre Garvin (2005-08) and Ray Faulkner (2007-10), and he’s within shouting distance of the top spot of 15.5 held by Dejon Brooks (2014, 2016-18).
Ledbetter said he doesn’t think much about records at this point in his career, but he did wax poetic about the meaningfulness of sacks for defensive linemen.
“There’s just something about hitting the quarterback, man,” he said. “We can’t touch Jake [Wright] at all out here at practice, and when we get there on Saturdays, it’s different.”
Ledbetter went on to say he’s thankful to have a talented offensive line to go against and make him better.
“When I got here, it wasn’t a breeze. Nothing was handed out to me. Michael Head, A.C. [Woolard], they make me work every day,” Ledbetter said, praising the team’s senior offensive tackles. “The hardest part of the week is practice. I go up against the best O-line in the conference every day, so it’s really a breeze on Saturday.”
It’s tough to argue with the results. Ledbetter’s 15.5 tackles for loss in 2018 gave him sole possession of fifth in a single season at Averett. He already has 6.5 more this year.
“He has very good instincts. He’s very twitchy,” senior defensive tackle Romello Herbin said. “On the D-line, we always clown and talk about guys being twitchy and having that fast movement. If he puts that one arm in your chest, it’s over.”
Averett initially recruited Ledbetter to be an inside linebacker, but head coach Cleive Adams and his staff eventually reversed course and returned him to his natural position.
“When we made that move, we saw everything we needed to see,” Adams said. “When you retain [upperclassmen], you like to feel like the younger guys are going to have to wait their turn, but every now and then, you get that shooting star that just stands out.”
Ledbetter made a lasting impression with his explosiveness, strength and a keen understanding of how to use leverage to his advantage. Further, he arrived on campus with a willingness to work hard and earn his spot on the varsity roster.
“He’s a guy that fits right in with those upperclassmen, and he had the same type of ability,” Adams said. “When we see that, we’re going to reward it no matter what class they’re in.”
Ledbetter’s effort and talents were evident to his more veteran teammates, as well.
“He doesn’t shy away from contact,” Herbin said. “Straight to the quarterback, 100 miles an hour. If he has an opportunity, if he sees something that he can exploit, he’s gonna take it.”
As a sophomore, Ledbetter knows he won’t surprise opposing teams this year. He is now a player that will be highlighted in scouting reports.
In response to that, he’s making sure he improves on his breakout freshman season.
“I’ve got to prove myself to [Adams]. I’m still the same person I was last year, and I’m getting better day by day,” Ledbetter said. “It’s just proving to coach that I’m still that same dog and I still got that same dog in me as last year.”
Parker Cotton is a sports reporter at the Martinsville Bulletin and Danville Register & Bee. You can reach him at (276) 638-8801 ext. 215. Follow @ByParkerCotton.