Coaches are teachers. University of Cincinnati football coach Luke Fickell is no different. But while teaching, Fickell also has learned, a lot. And many of those lessons came from the teachings of Desmond Ridder.
“I see so much I learned from him,” Fickell told The Enquirer. “I was in the same journey as he was. We were going through a lot of the same things together. For me, internally, that has made me look at him completely different than I might look at a lot of others.”
soccer UC:Cincinnati Bearcats close spring camp with QB competition still unsettled
Fickell admittedly didn’t know what all he had in Ridder when the lanky Louisville, Kentucky, native arrived on campus in 2017.
Five years later, Ridder is the third-winningest quarterback in college football history and could hear his name called on the first night of the 2022 NFL Draft on Thursday.
Desmond Ridder:UC Bearcats’ Desmond Ridder says he should be first quarterback selected in 2022 NFL Draft
Cincinnati Bearcats in the NFL Draft:UC Bearcats take another step toward building top-10 program with record pro day
Ridder, the 6-foot-3, 211-pound two-time American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year, could be selected anywhere from the middle of the first round to early in the second, according to most projections.
Ridder is the third-best quarterback prospect in this year’s draft class behind Liberty’s Malik Willis and Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, according to most draft analysts. But to Fickell, Ridder is much more than just an NFL prospect, he’s a program-changer.
“From my side of things, the ability to learn and see and do all that I’ve done just as a coach and in a different leadership position, I’ve been incredibly fortunate,” Fickell said. “I look at a little bit of my growth as a leader of the program a lot like his. Maybe I tried to lead in one way in year one when he was a redshirt guy. In year two, when he was learning how to win games and then winning games for us, I think I was leading in a different way. He was growing and I was growing.”
The rise of Desmond Ridder
After stumbling to a 4-8 record in his debut as Cincinnati’s head coach in 2017, Fickell went back to the drawing board. On that board was Ridder, the leader of the Bearcats’ scout team offense during Fickell’s first season.
Ridder competed for the starting spot in 2018, and after winning it, was named the AAC Rookie of the Year. After being in an almost continuous battle for his job, Ridder cemented himself as the No. 1 quarterback midway through the 2020 campaign.
With Ridder leading the way on the field and Fickell leading the charge from the sideline, the Bearcats compiled a 44-7 record over the past four seasons.
“I feel like there’s a special bond,” Fickell said. “The quarterback and the head coach are so unique in that they’ve got to be connected together, just because of the sheer fact that that’s where so many people look for your program. By nature, you hope that’s where the leaders of your program are able to shine.”
Evan Prater vs. Ben Bryant:Inside the battle to be Cincinnati’s next starting QB
Ridder finished his career at Cincinnati with a school-record 87 touchdown passes. Ridder’s 12,418 total yards (10,239 passing and 2,179 rushing) are the most in program history and AAC history. Ridder’s 28 career rushing scores are more than any other Bearcats quarterback. He’s responsible for more touchdowns (116) than anyone else in the history of the American conference.
But more than his play and staggering statistics, Fickell appreciated Ridder’s leadership.
“We’ve been fortunate to be connected over the last five years,” Fickell said. “I know for me, this being really my first time being a head coach and building a program, there’s obviously things that I will probably never forget. Who knows if we’ll ever have the same connection again? Just meaning a four-year starter. I don’t know. I guess you could say you’re lucky it happened that way. But I don’t know that it’s luck.”