Ridgway shines on defense once in Mavs’ starting lineup
Tanner Ridgway waited a long time for his opportunity to start on defense.
The Colorado Mesa University senior linebacker finally got his first start three weeks ago after Jake Edmiston sustained a season-ending injury.
Ridgway has made the most of his chance.
He has a career-high 48 tackles this season, including 15 solo and 3.5 for lost yardage. He has forced one fumble and recovered one this season.
Prior to this season, Ridgway had 16 career tackles.
“He’s been a huge contributor to us,” Mesa coach Joe Ramunno said. “He’s been in different roles. When Jake Edmiston got hurt, Tanner stepped in and really played well for us. He did all spring, too (when Chad Benkelman was injured).”
Ridgway enrolled at Mesa State College to play football and wrestle.
“I’ve known Tanner since he was a little kid,” Mesa wrestling coach Chuck Pipher said. “Knowing the type of character he had, he does everything we asked. He is such a good kid, comes from a great family. He’s a class act.
“He is a great athlete. His first love was football. If he would’ve been with us, he would’ve been a great 197-pounder.”
Pipher’s brother, Andy, coached Ridgway in wrestling at Paonia High School. Chuck coached against him.
Ridgway helped lead the Eagles to the school’s first state team wrestling title in 2005-06 and won an individual state title the next year.
He played football and wrestled his first year at Mesa in the 2007-08 school year, redshirting in both sports. He competed in a couple of open wrestling tournaments that winter.
The next year, Ridgway decided to focus on football.
“Football’s always been more fun for me,” he said. “It’s my biggest passion.”
Although he’s been a backup linebacker, he found a spot on special teams.
“Coach Ramunno has always said (to) find your role on the team,” Ridgway said. “Mine was as a special teams player, which is fine with me as long as I’m on the field. That’s how it worked out.
“I’ve always been a competitor. When I wasn’t a starter, I focused on fighting for it. Special teams, getting in there a little bit and contributing helped.”
Ridgway accepted that role and continued to work hard. Four weeks ago, when Edmiston was injured, he got his chance.
“It’s horrible Edmiston got hurt, but it’s nice to be able to be out there on the field more in my fifth year,” Ridgway said.
“You think you can come and play (right away). That’s part of the recruiting process. Some do, but a lot don’t. You have to persevere for a while, go through some ups and downs until you get your shot, but it’s totally worth it.”
The Mavericks defense hasn’t missed a beat with Ridgway in the lineup. He was third on the team last week with 11 tackles.
“He’s developed into a good football player,” Ramunno said. “He’s been instrumental for us on special teams. He has a great personality, a loyal guy and good team player. He comes to work every day. He’s a great team player.”
Ridgway will suit up for the last time with 14 other seniors at noon today at Chadron State (Neb.) College.
He hasn’t decided what’s next for him after he graduates in the spring, but the environmental science major is considering graduate school.
“I’m going to miss the camaraderie of the team the most,” Ridgway said. “Just being with the guys even when we’re not practicing and lifting. That’s the thing I’m going to miss the most.
“I’m going to miss Ramunno’s stories. He’s a good storyteller.”