Walking his path: Ridley excited about new opportunity

Published 12:01 am Sunday, August 6, 2017

Stevan Ridley sat in his bunk last Sunday evening at the Denver Broncos training facility in Dove Valley, Colo., deeply entrenched in his new playbook.

Signed by the organization the Thursday before, the former Trinity Episcopal star is determined to give maximum effort in his newest opportunity.

Ridley described brief his time in Broncos camp as a repetition of sorts, hitting the practice field with his teammates in the mornings and acclimating himself to the Broncos way and playbook in the evenings with a routine among other players who have already experience the teams’ offseason training program.

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The call

While many players were getting accustomed to their team, Ridley was spending his recent days in Mississippi, pushing himself mentally and physically.

Ridley, an NFL veteran of eight years, made certain to keep himself in top condition, knowing preseason camp could potentially lead to an opening.

In late June, second-year Broncos running back Devontae Booker sustained a wrist injury that will keep him sidelined for the foreseeable future.

Ridley received a phone call on July 26 and hopped in his truck to head to New Orleans, catching the next available flight to Denver while gaining rest on his way.

“It really was a shocker,” the 5-foot-11, 215-pound running back said. “I got the call, and it was an answered prayer.”

The former area star made his way to the Broncos training facility and worked out for franchise brass on July 27.

Ridley’s workout was well received, as the Broncos signed him just hours later to a one-year contract.

“If I wasn’t prepared and if the people around weren’t motivating me, then I would have missed this opportunity,” he said. “I have to cash in and capitalize and do the best that I can.”

Overcoming obstacles

Ridley signed with LSU as part of its 2017 recruiting class after a standout prep career with the Saints in which he ran for more than 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns en route to leading Trinity to an MPSA Class-A state championship in his senior season.

However, Ridley’s career path took an unexpected turn after suffering a torn ACL in the spring of 2009.

As a sophomore in college, Ridley said the injury was a devastating one to deal with.

“With running backs, your legs are everything,” he said. “It was not only a blow physically, but also mentally.”

Ridley leaned on family and friends for support, but said the most notable advice came from his father, Leon Ridley III.

“I came home, and he told me I was going to learn a lot about myself,” Ridley said. “He told me then that it wasn’t over, and that always stuck with me.”

With the help of LSU team doctor Brett Bankston and athletic trainer Jack Marucci, Ridley managed to find his way back onto the field after four months.

Ridley ultimately rebounded to his peak high school days. He took over the reins as LSU’s lead running back as a junior in 2010. He earned first-team All-SEC honors after rushing for 1,147 yards and 15 touchdowns.

He was back.

The New England Patriots selected him in the third round of the 2011 draft, and Ridley quickly made a name for himself in the NFL.

Serving as one of the Patriots’ top offensive weapons over the next three years, the Natchez native ran for nearly 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns for New England.

But Ridley ran into another obstacle just a few games into his fourth professional season.

On a run to the left side, Ridley took a blow to his right knee from Bills defensive back Stephon Gilmore, ending his season and sending him to his second ACL injury.

“It was Week 6 of my contract year in New England,” Ridley said. “I was going to miss out on the big contract. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that’s what we played for — to be able to provide for our loved ones.

“The only thing I could fall back on was my faith. I asked God what he was trying to teach me,” he said. “My mom (Carolyn Ridley) and dad were heavily involved in my rehab. Sometimes I would wake up in the morning bawling my eyes out crying. I wanted to be back on the field so bad, and it was taken away from me. There were nights I was losing sleep, and I was having dreams of being back on the field. (Football) is in my heart. It’s what I love to do, and I’ve been playing for so long.”

For the second time, Ridley made his way back on the field.

He secured a spot with the New York Jets in 2015, beginning the year on the Physically Unable to Perform list before finally appearing in his first game back nine weeks into the season. Ridley saw action in eight games that season.

In 2016, Ridley began the season with the Detroit Lions before a brief stint with the Atlanta Falcons, appearing in just one game and tallying three rushes with the Super Bowl runner-up.

“Sitting at home and watching games on Sunday, it was just tough,” he said. “It was a battle every day. I was asking myself how much should I run? Should I be doing yoga today? There were so many thoughts that I had, and it was a battle on a daily basis to make sure I was ready when the time came.”

What’s in front of him

Ridley seems to be in the same situation as most of his Denver backfield teammates.

Incumbent starter CJ Anderson played in just seven games in 2016, while five-time 1,000-yard rusher Jamaal Charles played in just three games last season with the Chiefs after suffering a torn ACL in 2015.

“Anderson has done a terrific job in the system, but behind him there are some question marks. I don’t think anyone has an upper hand,” Ridley said. “The other guys, they were here for (Organized Team Activities) in the offseason, so they are a little more familiar with the system. But some are guys that are trying to find themselves and find their roles on this team. … I just pray that I can stay healthy and get an opportunity to show what I can do with the ball in my hands.”

The Broncos also have a new coaching staff in place for 2017 as New Orleans native Vance Joseph took over for Gary Kubiak, who retired at the end of the 2016 season.

“The past year and a half has been a humbling experience,” Ridley said. “It was the worst time in my career. But I really feel I have a chip on my shoulder, and I’m playing with a lot to prove.

“I’m excited and fortunate to be a part of this great organization,” he said. “They make a run every year and know what it takes to win.”