Almost a year ago, Desmond Ridder and his family spent three and a half hours in the office of Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell with an impending decision that had the potential to reshape the Bearcat program and the sport.
After Cincinnati Peach Bowl loss to Georgia, Ridder needed to determine quickly if he would return to the Bearcats for a fifth and final season.
A myriad of factors hung over Ridder’s decision. His projections in the NFL were spotty – from round three to round six. He and his longtime girlfriend Claire Cornett were expecting their first child around the draft. And Ridder’s return would mean 15 starters return to a preseason top 10 squad with the potential to derail the college football playoffs.
A year later, Ridder’s decision resonates among the best in recent sports history. Ridder led Cincinnati (13-0) in a historic CFP run, worked his way into the first round conversation of the NFL Draft, and started a family in a familiar town not far from the location. where the couple grew up in Louisville. (Their daughter, Leighton Elizabeth, also had enough airtime and Instagram love be considered one of the stars of the season.)
âTo be able to come here now and be a part of Cincinnati and something special, that means a lot to me,â Ridder said. “I would definitely say this is my home away from home.”
The season has offered tangible and intangible rewards. While exact numbers aren’t available, it’s a safe estimate that Ridder made over $ 250,000 in name, image and likeness sponsorships. But the year has transcended switch from a Kia to a Range Rover or gift his linemen some Bose headphones or his teammates for dinner at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse.
Ridder has also cemented himself in the Cincinnati tradition, both in the city and in the school. Along with the immediate financial opportunities, he has become a star locally and a household name nationally, which translates into opportunities down the road. Additionally, NFL scouts estimate at Yahoo Sports that its draft stock is between 20 and 40, which means millions more in guaranteed cash. (The last pick of the first round earns almost $ 7 million more on a rookie contract than the last pick of the third round).
When # 4 Cincinnati plays # 1 Alabama In the college football playoff semifinals on Friday, Ridder has an unparalleled opportunity to seize the moment and deliver another salute to Cincinnati’s glass-breaking season. It’s another chance for Ridder to exemplify one of the lasting legacies of his final year in college – the power and possibility that comes with going back to school and emerging as a superstar.
âThe way things turned out will be an example that we use as an example for years to come,â Fickell told Yahoo Sports.
At the meeting in Fickell’s office a year ago, it was all possible. None of this was given. Fickell is not very conducive to reflection and introspection, as he is an old wrestler who is singularly focused on what lies ahead. But Fickell took a moment to appreciate how everything turned out almost perfectly for Ridder – an unbeaten season, a growing family and an ideal career base.
âYou think about that three and a half hour conversation with him and his family, and introducing it,â Fickell said in a phone interview. âThis is where you are. This is what you could do. We are doing everything we can to give you this opportunity to present yourself as a complete quarterback. “
At Nippert Stadium during summer practice, strength coach Brady Collins had the team perform seven sets of stadium walks – six for the scheduled home games and one for the possible home title game. of the American Athletic Conference. Ridder ended his career 26-0 at Nippert, one of many breathtaking stats that include a 43-5 record as a starter and a 21-game straight win in the regular season.
The intimacy of Cincinnati with its 40,000-seat stadium and the novelty of this historic level of success fuel the legacy of Ridder’s comeback. Whatever the result on Friday (BetMGM has the Bearcats as 13.5 point underdogs), Ridder is the most decorated and celebrated player of the most decorated and celebrated team in the history of the school.
Ridder laughed when asked if it was possible for this team to come back for meetings and be toast. “I hope the players who are still playing in about 20 years will remember the name and come to the games when they are kids,” he said. “I hope I’m still at the top of the record books and I hope I’ll be on the Ring of Honor then.”
At that point, a star college player like Ridder making hundreds of thousands of dollars won’t be new. The notion of NIL played a minimal role in Ridder’s actual decision to return. The legislation was more theoretical than real 11 months ago. By the time he debuted this summer, Ridder ended up making deals that included a car (Bluegrass Motor Sport), clothing (Bylt), headphones (Bose), NFT (Candy Digital) and types of memorabilia, jerseys and collectible cards. who have become familiar to college stars.
But what he has accomplished and won – and prepared to win in the future – will be a touchstone for players making similar decisions. For Ridder and his family, NIL has brought a level of comfort. “His ability to generate real income last year certainly eased some of those stresses that under the old system would have been there for him,” said Brian McLaughlin, Ridder’s NIL agent.
The extra money also brought generosity, as he made sure to include and reward his teammates, which Fickell emphasized and appreciated.
âHe’s had the maturity to recognize that he should share some of the wealth with the guys on the team, and you have to take care of your linemen,â said Cincinnati star linebacker Joel Dublanko. “It was really cool to be able to see that, and it just adds to his leadership.”
It’s fun to go back a year ago, in the story announcing that Ridder would return to Cincinnati. All of the contenders listed for the top quarterback were disappointed in 2021 – UNC’s Sam Howell, Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels, USC’s Kedon Slovis, Georgia’s JT Daniels and Brock Purdy of the ‘Iowa State.
Ridder, Kenny Pickett of Pitt and Malik Willis of Liberty all passed this crew. (Pickett’s decision to come back as wise as Ridder’s will be remembered.) And Ridder did so with the option of sharing his wealth. This Christmas, for example, he said that instead of buying a Cincinnati t-shirt for his cousins, he asked his aunts and uncles what the cousins ââwere looking for.
âI went out and got it,â Ridder said. âI want to see a big smile on their face. Being able to give back is huge for me.
Ridder has helped provide a sunny joyous season for Cincinnati. And coming back for priceless memories with solid benefits, he is sure to be celebrated for years to come and this team. And, perhaps, inspire others to follow his path.