Nearly a year ago, Desmond Ridder and his family spent three-and-a-half hours in the office of Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell with a looming decision that held the potential to reshape the Bearcat program and the sport.
After Cincinnati’s Peach Bowl loss to Georgia, Ridder needed to figure out in short order whether he’d return to the Bearcats for a fifth and final season.
Myriad factors hovered over Ridder’s decision. His NFL projections were uneven – anywhere from the third to sixth round. He and longtime girlfriend, Claire Cornett, were expecting their first child around the draft. And Ridder’s return would mean 15 starters coming back to a preseason top-10 team with the potential to crash the College Football Playoff.
One year later, Ridder’s decision resonates among the best in the recent history of the sport. Ridder led Cincinnati (13-0) on a historic run to the CFP, played his way into the NFL draft first-round conversation and started a family in a familiar city not far from where the couple grew up in Louisville. (Their daughter, Leighton Elizabeth, also got enough air-time and Instagram love to be considered one of the season’s breakout stars.)
“To be able to come here now and be a part of Cincinnati and something special, it means a lot to me,” Ridder said. “I would definitely say it’s my home away from home.”
The season offered tangible and intangible awards. While exact numbers aren’t available, it’s a safe estimate Ridder made more than $250,000 in name, image and likeness sponsorships. But the year transcended upgrading from a Kia to a Range Rover or treating his linemen to Bose headphones or teammates to dinner at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse.