ATHENS — It was a standard question put to Riley Ridley: Is there another wide receiver he emulates? The Georgia junior looked ahead and thought a moment.
“I don’t think I resemble anyone,” he said, before adding: “But my favorite receiver who I watch is Julio Jones.”
He paused a millisecond, and smiled.
“And Calvin Ridley,” he said.
Well of course. No reason not to admire an All-America wide receiver who just happens to be your older brother. Riley Ridley may have changed his (public) first name to be more unique and gone to a different school, creating the impression that he’s intent on paving his own path. But he’s also never minded people asking about his brother. He didn’t feel he was in his shadow.
And for one night, he wasn’t.
The National Championship Game might engender mixed emotions for the younger Ridley, whose team lost the game to Alabama, but it was his coming-out game: After starting receiver Javon Wims left with a shoulder injury, Ridley stepped in to lead Georgia with 6 catches for 82 yards, more than his older brother totaled in that game.
That game, and the chemistry he showed with quarterback Jake Fromm, could very well be a lifting point for Ridley, who entering the Alabama game had only 8 catches for 136 yards the entire season. This spring he is the odds-on replacement for Wims, now off to the NFL, like Calvin Ridley.
“That game was huge for Riley and I really hope he continues to build off that,” Fromm said. “I think he will. He’s been doing awesome this spring ball and I hope he continues to do it.”
This is Ridley’s third spring at Georgia. He enrolled early in 2016, a sudden addition to Kirby Smart’s first recruiting class. Ridley was then a senior at Monarch High School in Coconut Creek, Fla., a prime recruiting area of James Coley.
Coley made Ridley an immediate target, and coached him as Georgia’s receivers coach the next two years. But now Coley is the quarterbacks coach and has been replaced by Cortez Hankton, who came over from Vanderbilt. How does that change things?
“Coach Hankton and Coach Coley are two different coaches,” Ridley said. “But Coach Hankton, he brings love to the room, he brings energy to the field, just as well as Coach Coley. They aren’t missing a stride. We believe in them and we’re getting after it now.”
Ridley’s hope is he doesn’t miss a stride coming off that Alabama game. It proved to be the final one of his brother’s career — he’s expected to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft — and could be the game the younger brother uses to establish that Georgia has three go-to receivers in 2018: Terry Godwin, Mecole Hardman and Ridley.
This spring, Ridley said he’s been working on honing his game: route running, blocking on the perimeter, identifying coverages. There wasn’t really much keeping him off the field the last couple years, other than the presence of Wims, who emerged as one of Fromm’s top targets.
So with Wims gone, does Ridley automatically inherit that role, and those targets? Or, besides being a couple inches shorter (but still 6-foot-2) is Ridley a different receiver?
“I’m Riley Ridley,” he said. “I’m going to keep playing my way, my ball, and the passes that come to me I’ll try to make the best of my opportunities, and I feel that’s the best I can do.”
That’s the same approach Ridley has when his brother’s name comes up: not running from it, but getting enough distance to establish his own identity.
“My brother’s my brother. He was at Alabama, I’m here at Georgia,” Ridley said. “I’ve got to make the best of what I got here, you know what I mean? And that’s what I’m going to do.”