Benny Sapp III stepped into Mike Grant’s office, pulled out a sheet of paper and placed it on Grant’s desk.
Then he smiled as wide as possible.
The letter contained his doctor’s notice that Sapp’s left knee is 100 percent healthy and cleared for all physical activity.
“Good deal,” said Grant, Eden Prairie’s legendary football coach.
A few days earlier, Sapp stood with his father, Benny II, a former Vikings cornerback, in the office of new Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck and cried. Happy tears, this time.
Sapp committed to Fleck as the first member of the Gophers’ 2018 recruiting class even though Sapp has not played football for two seasons after tearing the ACL in his knee twice.
Fleck took a leap of faith that Sapp will regain the form that made him a coveted cornerback as a freshman in Florida. And Sapp showed his appreciation for Fleck’s belief in him by verbally committing after meeting Fleck only a few weeks prior.
“To be honest with you, before Coach Fleck came, I was not thinking about Minnesota at all,” Sapp said. “Not even a little bit.”
Sapp might be one of the most intriguing high school players in the country. His father played part of three seasons for the Vikings in his eight-year NFL career.
The younger Sapp started his prep career at St. Thomas Aquinas, a national power in Florida. He played as a freshman and caught the eye of top college programs during spring ball that year. Southern schools hold spring practices that attract recruiters.
“At first they weren’t even looking at me at all,” Sapp said. “I was just a regular little kid.”
Recruiters watched him defend passes and “the offers kept rolling,” Sapp said.
In all, he received 21 offers that spring from college football’s royalty, reportedly including Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan, Miami and Oklahoma.
His path to stardom took a detour that summer during a 7-on-7 event. He collided with a receiver while trying to intercept a pass and suffered a torn ACL, causing him to miss his sophomore season.
Sapp returned for spring practices and promptly suffered the same injury in the same knee.
“I had a ‘why me?’ moment,” he said. “I worked my behind off to make it this far. I know this is not the end of my career.”
It was the end of his career at St. Thomas Aquinas, though. Sapp’s family made a decision last fall to move to Minnesota. Sapp said his father loved living here when he played for the Vikings and, with a growing family, they packed up and headed north.
Sapp’s junior season consisted of rehab and watching Eden Prairie games from the sideline. His recruitment took a hiatus, too.
“I am pretty much 100 percent sure I do not have those offers anymore,” he said. “As of right now, I’d say 10 used to talk to me when I was uncommitted. [The others] went away.”
Two ACL tears and two missed seasons will have that effect. Fleck is not allowed to speak publicly about unsigned recruits, but offering Sapp brought minimal risk. Not offering him would’ve looked worse if Sapp becomes a premier player again at Eden Prairie.
Grant hasn’t seen Sapp play, but he has heard positive reviews from trainers who worked with him during his rehab. The scouting report: He is extremely fast for a 6-1, 178-pound defensive back.
“My legs feel great,” Sapp said. “I’m just blessed to even move like that with two ACL surgeries.”
Fleck called to FaceTime with Sapp and his father last week, inviting them to campus. Fleck has offered scholarships to more than 125 juniors. None has a story quite like Sapp’s.
“A lot of the colleges counted me out,” he said. “I felt like they were just looking at me as a product instead of a person. Coach Fleck loves me as a person and as a player. He doesn’t just want my talent. He wants what’s inside of me, my heart.”
Rest assured, schools will tug at his heart if Sapp shows he is healthy as a senior. That will be a test of Fleck’s recruiting chops, to keep Sapp committed if college football’s powerhouses swarm in pursuit again.
Sapp told Fleck that he is “1,000 percent” committed to him.
“I was just blessed to have him believe in me,” Sapp said.