Calvin Ridley, somehow, doesn’t feel old in his position group. Alabama’s junior wide receiver is surrounded by five true freshmen. He has played in at least 30 more games than any of them.
Instead of exploiting the age gap, Ridley watches and learns from the rookies.
“A little bit,” Ridley said. “You know, I learn stuff from everybody, just moves you can take from everybody to get better.”
And he has. Gotten better, that is.
Ridley thinks he has improved his ability to run routes and read coverages. He studies film and examines his and teammates’ play. It obviously works because Ridley has caught a pass in every single game in which he has ever played, dating all the way to his freshman debut in the 2015 season opener against Wisconsin.
So far this year, Ridley has notched 33 receptions for 477 yards and two touchdowns to keep his streak, which is the second-longest among active FBS players, going.
“Calvin has had an outstanding season,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “He’s one of the leading guys in our league in terms of production and performance. He sets a great example for the young guys and has been a really good leader in that regard.”
Those young guys, they’re getting to practice side-by-side with the Crimson Tide’s leading receiver from last season. He finished with 72 catches for 796 yards and four touchdowns.
Already three freshmen have made an impact for the Crimson Tide. Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith have combined for 16 receptions, 279 yards and six touchdowns.
“They come to me asking stuff, what they should’ve (done) and how you deal with this if somebody’s in a certain way,” Ridley said. “But they’re doing awesome.”
Saban has seen Ridley’s influence help the youngsters mature. They’re taking notes from Ridley on different things, such as how to manage frustrations so they can continue to improve rather than plateau. For that, Saban is grateful because it means they’re developing as athletes.
At times, Alabama has Jeudy, Ruggs and Smith all in a game at once. Saban said there’s no philosophy behind that, just that he wants to play as many players as he can. With the experience, they’re making less mental errors and becoming better players without the ball.
“We’re very confident in those guys,” Saban said, “and we know we’d like for all of them to have a chance to be productive, all six of the receivers that we’ve been playing.”
Redshirt senior Robert Foster and senior Cam Sims are the other two.
Foster and Sims will graduate at the end of the season. Ridley, however, will have a decision to make. He will have played three seasons at UA and can enter the NFL draft, or stay for one last go-around. As of right now, he’s not focusing on either option.
“I just want to win, get back to the championship pretty much,” Ridley said. “I want to get back there and win.”