Hulme wasn’t joking.
Ridgeway was such a gentle giant that I could barely make out anything he was saying when I went home to transcribe the quotes from my recorder that had been right in front of his mouth.
It’s just his personality.
He truly does want his actions to speak louder than his words, which is why it came as no surprise to this reporter when he was barely mentioned throughout the week’s practices leading up to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl yet he was one of the better defensive players in the game by forcing one fumble and also recording a sack.
That sack was the last one he’d made until the sophomore exploded through North Texas’ offensive line to sack Josh Greer for a nine-yard loss midway through the third quarter of UT’s season opener. He let out more emotion in that one play than we’d seen from him in all his time on the 40 Acres.
“I hadn’t had a sack since high school so that was a big moment for me,” said Ridgeway, who had two sacks, and five total tackles, against UNT, which earned him the team’s defensive player of the game honors along with senior linebacker Jordan Hicks. “That was my first college sack. I was pretty emotional after that one.”
Ridgeway’s two sacks that game left him fourth in the country in total sacks after the first week. He joked that that’s “probably not going to last,” yet he’s tied for 20th through four weeks with 3.5 sacks.
That is just a half sack behind team-leader Malcom Brown, who is just one of four Longhorns to record 3.5 sacks or more in the first three games of a season since 2001 (Eddie Jones, 4, in 2010; Brian Orakpo, 4, in 2008; and Maurice Gordon, 3.5, in 2001).
Ridgeway will have plenty more opportunities to build on that sack total now that he’ll be starting in place of Desmond Jackson, who is out for the remained of the season after injuring his foot against UCLA.
Texas head coach Charlie Strong believes there shouldn’t be much of a drop off in productivity with Ridgeway paired up to Brown instead of Jackson, who had 12 tackles but no tackles-for-loss through three games.
“Without a doubt, played very well,” Strong said. “Thing was he was playing behind Malcom and now he gets an opportunity to go start. But the thing about Ridgeway is he's so strong, so powerful, and he's big and strong where he can get off blocks and make plays, and you just see him go at people and just throwing back and just reach over to get sacks. But he's playing very well, just love his whole attitude.”
An adjustment in attitude, or want-to, is what the coaches have been trying to get across to Ridgeway since they took over. They want the light to stay on and not turn on and off repeatedly.
It seems to finally be getting to that point and a big reason is that Ridgeway finally fells comfortable with his playing weight.
He lacked the stamina to go multiple plays in a row last season.
“Coming in from high school I gained all that weight moving from defensive end to defensive tackle. I couldn’t run that well,” he said. “I got recruited around 250 [pounds] and came in around 285. I’m at 308 [now].”
Ridgeway is so confident in his playing weight that he said he could even carry more if he needed. The most he’s ever weighed is 315.
That adjustment wasn’t an easy one, though, and Ridgeway relied on his fellow linemen to help him through what had truly become a difficult time.
“Well I had a lot of people pushing me, like Malcom and Tank [Jackson],” said Ridgeway, who has 11 tackles (eight solo) and one quarterback pressure this season. “They came back and they were the ones helping to get better. I just try to be like them. That's my main goal is to be as good as them. When I come on the field, I don't want there to be a drop-off from anybody else. I want to be just as good.”
Defensive line coach Chris Rumph has also played a major roll in Ridgeway’s development. This is the first year that any of these defensive linemen have had one coach overseeing both the ends and tackles, and Ridgeway, for one, is a fan of it.
“That helps out a lot with the confusion,” Ridgeway said. “We know what happens with the entire defense. Sometimes you didn’t know what the defensive ends were doing.”
Ridgeway calls Rumph an “extraordinary coach” and “one of the best coaches I’ve had.”
“Just the way he talks, shows us what we need to do, how he teaches us is a lot different,” he said. “I've had good coaches before but he has a different approach to us and that's all it is. Just a different approach to us, which made us learn differently.”
And effectively. The Longhorns have combined for 13 sacks over the first three games and rank sixth in the FBS at 4.3 per game.
Ridgeway will do what he can to help up that average against a Kansas team that relies on its ground game to move the chains. The Jayhawks average 200.3 yards per game on the ground, which is 41st best in the country.
“I mean whatever the defense needs me to do I’ll try and do it,” he said. “I’m not expecting to have a major [impact]. I just want to do whatever it takes to win.”
He struggled a bit against UCLA when he had to replace Jackson at nose tackle in the third quarter because he’d been backing up Brown at the 3-technique (lining up on the outside shoulder of the guard). So the bye week came at an opportune time for Ridgeway.
”We have no doubt those two will do a great job for us,” Bedford said of Ridgeway and Brown.
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