Before the season, those who had been around Hassan Ridgeway knew that the redshirt sophomore defensive tackle had the talent to be a special player. His teammates often spoke about the flashes of brilliance they had seen in practice, but, to some, it appeared that a poor work ethic prevented him from reaching his full potential.
Nicknamed the “Green Mile” by his teammates, Ridgeway’s challenge for 2014 was to “bring it” on every single play. As the season grew near, junior defensive tackle Malcom Brown saw Ridgeway putting in the extra effort.
“He’s grown up a lot,” Brown said. “Sometimes Hassan just goes. And when he really goes, you’re like, ‘Man, just do that every play.’ But he’s grown up a lot, I feel like his mind has gotten better, and he’s going to be a great player for us.”
In Texas’ season opener against North Texas, Ridgeway immediately demonstrated that potential, accumulating two sacks, the first two of his collegiate career.
“I hadn’t gotten a sack since high school, so that was a big moment for me,” Ridgeway said. “That was my first college sack, I was pretty emotional for that one.”
In Texas’ two game since, Ridgeway has continued to make an impact in the defensive line rotation.
In the second half of Texas’ loss to UCLA, senior defensive tackle Desmond “Tank” Jackson suffered a season-ending foot injury. Ridgeway played well in relief of Jackson but will now be tasked with the added pressure of replacing him as a starter.
Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford expects Ridgeway to be able to handle the added playing time but knows it will be tough to replace Jackson’s leadership presence.
“Hassan Ridgeway was backing up Malcom [Brown]. Now he has to go to nose [tackle],” Bedford says. “As far as a physical presence, I think we will be good there. But, as far as the excitement, the enthusiasm [and] the emotional leader, you can’t replace that. “
Head coach Charlie Strong really likes what he’s been seeing from Ridgeway, who now will need to continue to play at a very high level to make up for the loss of Jackson.
“Without a doubt, [he’s been] playing very well,“ Strong said. “Now, he gets an opportunity to go start. He’s so strong, so powerful and he can get off blocks and make plays. And you just see him go at people and just throwing back and just reach over to get sacks. He’s playing very well — just love his whole attitude.”
After Jackson left the game in the third quarter, the Longhorns struggled to consistently stop the UCLA offense and running game. Given the success the Bruins had, it’s safe to assume that Big 12 opponents are going to try to take advantage of Ridgeway’s lack of experience in the middle.
“I would run at Hassan Ridgeway,” Bedford said. “One of these days, Hassan is going to actually get mad. He is one of the nicest young people I’ve ever been around. If he ever gets mad I’m going to be the first one to leave the room because he will hurt somebody. My man could be a beast. I think he has ability to be a special talent.”
Ridgeway’s coaches and teammates clearly believe he will develop into a great player. Now, it’s up to him to prove them right and make an impact as the Longhorns try to turn their season around.