David Sharpe doesn’t turn a corner in the hallways of his high school without someone acknowledging him.
He’s the big man on campus — both in size and popularity.
The Florida signee has only been at Duncan U. Fletcher in Jacksonville for three months, but he’s already well liked by the student body. And at 6-foot-6, 318 pounds, it didn’t take long for him to be noticed.
Two years ago, Sharpe caught the eye of a football coach at another nearby high school.
“I saw him in the hallway when he came to tour Providence before he actually decided to transfer,” Kevin Womble recalled. “Somebody told me he was here for basketball, but maybe there’s a shot we could get him to play football.
“As the offensive line coach, my first impression looking at him was, ‘Boy, I sure hope so.’ ”
Like fellow incoming freshman Thomas Holley, Sharpe’s background is in basketball. He played the sport growing up and wanted to continue doing so at the collegiate level.
“Basketball was my first love,” he said. “It’s just something I’ve been doing since I was young, with me always being bigger than everybody.”
Sharpe didn’t pick up football until eighth grade and had only played one season — his freshman year at Jacksonville University Christian — when he transferred to Providence from Englewood High School.
Womble and then head coach Bobby Raulerson convinced Sharpe to join the football team in the summer of his junior year. During offseason workouts, Womble said Sharpe didn’t have much strength in the weight room or technique in drills. His athleticism, however, was off the charts.
“Probably the most athletic individual his size I’ve ever seen in person,” Womble said.
Still, Sharpe struggled in the early stages of the 2012 season. He didn’t know his blocking assignments at times and wasn’t 100 percent dedicated to football. But eventually, his natural ability showed.
“It started translating to the field more and more,” Womble said, “especially when the competition heated up for him as we got deeper into our schedule and played tougher teams. He really rose to the occasion in those moments. There were flashes where it really stood out on Friday nights and on film.”
Once his junior highlights were sent out to college coaches, Sharpe burst onto the recruiting scene in February 2013. In one week he was offered by Florida, Florida State and Georgia.
“It shocked me,” Sharpe said. “When it first started, it was bad. Every 20 minutes I would get a call. There were times I couldn’t get anything done.
“I had no idea I could go somewhere with football until that point. I honestly didn’t even take it seriously before then.”
Sharpe won a Class 3A state championship with the Providence basketball team as his recruitment blew up. His success on the court made him second guess his football aspirations, but an offer from back-to-back national champion Alabama in early March left no doubt in his mind.
“When the names Will Muschamp, Jimbo Fisher and Nick Saban start popping up on your caller I.D., that’s a pretty good sign of what you’re supposed to be doing,” Womble said.
Sharpe became a U.S. Army All-American as a senior and gained more offers from Auburn, Clemson, LSU and South Carolina, among others. He also developed his game under Womble and former Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Tony Boselli, who joined the Providence staff last spring as an assistant coach.
“He really took pride in perfecting his craft every day,” Womble said. “He was always asking myself and coach Boselli, ‘What can I work on today?’ Whether it was a pass (protection) set or foot work for a run block, he just wanted to get better.”
The change in Sharpe’s attitude and approach toward football came with the realization that basketball wasn’t his calling. He didn’t play for Fletcher this year.
“It’s been very hard,” Sharpe said. “I love basketball, still to this day. But I love football, too, and now I know I can go far with it in the future.”
That future begins at UF. He committed to the Gators in December after seeing an opportunity for himself on their offensive line. Florida’s 4-8 season actually made the school appealing to Sharpe.
“It wasn’t my No. 1 choice at first,” he said. “I was really hooked on Georgia. But when I saw they were going through a tough year, I thought I could go down there and help them out.”
UF coach Will Muschamp believes Sharpe’s skill set and ceiling could be special.
“Like a got of big guys, sometimes they think they’re a basketball player,” Muschamp said. “He was a guy that bought into the football side of it and he bought into the physicality of the game.
“You combine that with athleticism … and he’s got great feet. You can’t coach that. So he’s a guy that I think will continue to improve, and his best football is ahead of him because he’s still very young at the game.”
Some scouts are skeptical of Sharpe and how he’ll fare against SEC defenders. He is ranked by ESPN as the nation’s 20th overall prospect and second-best offensive tackle, but Rivals ranks him No. 25 at his position.
“He’s one of those lineman who could be amazing or a complete bust,” said Mike Farrell, Rivals’ national recruiting analyst. “He looks like a million bucks. He could be a gorgeous left tackle and future NFL first-rounder like Cyrus Kouandjio, or he could be a guy that just never plays.
“He’s a great, athletic kid that can move his feet like a tight end. But the first thing I look for in an offensive lineman is not feet. It’s toughness. It’s nastiness. Can they put someone on the ground consistently and play angry? When I look at David Sharpe, there’s a high boom-bust factor with him. He’ll need to have a mean streak in the SEC.”
Womble said Sharpe has one, and the environment at Florida will bring it out of him. Womble also doesn’t question Sharpe’s motivation and passion for the game of football like he once did.
“The sky’s the limit with him,” Womble said. “He can be as great as he wants to be. That ball is completely in his court.”