Key players gone, but Cincy’s Fickell says ‘run is not over’

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

CINCINNATI – Coach Luke Fickell has suggested a book about Cincinnati’s upcoming football season could be titled “Life Without Desmond Ridder.”

While finding a replacement for the record-setting four-year starter at quarterback may be at the front of the coach’s mind this spring, the title of that tome should probably be amended to also lament the loss of a stud running back, a pair of All-American defensive backs and all seven captains from last year’s College Football Playoff team.

The stars aligned for “Coach Fick” last year as the star-studded Bearcats produced the best season in school history and cracked the CFP, the first team from a second-tier conference to do so. They didn’t lose a game until they ran into Alabama in the national semifinal.

Now, with a contract extension worth $5 million a year through 2028 and Cincinnati’s move to the Big 12 in the next couple of years, Fickell has to show he can sustain national success.

Fickell is entering his sixth season as Bearcats coach. He said spring practice this time is as critical as any during his tenure.

“Obviously, things are going to be different, but the expectations aren’t going to be different,” he said. “How you go about them may be different. If you think we’re going to be exactly the same offense without Desmond Ridder, you’d be crazy, but we are going to expect the same results.”

“The expectation doesn’t change, the train continues to move forward. It’s not slowing down, it’s not stopping,” he said. “The run is not over.”

Speaking of quarterbacks, the likely replacement for Ridder seems to be sophomore Evan Prater, a former Ohio Mr. Football and one of Cincinnati’s highest-rated prep recruits ever. Prater played in seven games backing up Ridder last season.

Then comes Ben Bryant, who spent three seasons at UC backing up Ridder, transferred and started for Eastern Michigan last year and now is back at Cincinnati as a grad student to compete for the starting job. Bryant led Eastern Michigan to a 7-6 record and a bowl game last season while throwing for 3,121 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

“It’s going to be a battle,” Fickell said.

“We’ve got to put them in positions and situations where they can do what it is that they do well, then that’s where we’ll have to adapt and adjust,” he said.

Alabama transfer Jerome Ford emerged as the No. 1 running back for the Bearcats last season, rushing for 1,242 yards and 19 touchdowns while averaging 6.2 yards per carry.

Ryan Montgomery, Charles McClelland, Ethan Wright and Myles Montgomery will compete to be the next No. 1.

The Bearcats have four new assistants on staff, and besides new offensive coordinator Gino Guidugli, the one shouldering the biggest responsibility might be Kerry Coombs, hired to coach cornerbacks and coordinate special teams.

The 60-year-old Coombs was demoted and then fired as defensive coordinator at Ohio State after a dismal season for that unit. Now at Cincinnati, he’s got to identify and motivate replacements for Coby Bryant and Sauce Gardner – the best cornerback tandem in college football last season.

At least Coombs didn’t walk into totally strange territory. He coached at Colerain High School in Cincinnati, then spent two years on the UC staff before being hired by Urban Meyer at Ohio State. He and Fickell were colleagues on Meyer’s staff.

“A lot of things look the same,” said Coombs, known for his energy and ability to connect with players. “There are facility upgrades, don’t get me wrong, but the tone and tenor that Luke has brought is special. It’s exciting to be a part of that. You feel that. So, it’s very similar and very different all at the same time.”

Spring practice continues until April 14, with the annual spring game set for April 9.

Vick, Fitzgerald and Suggs among stars on College Football Hall of Fame ballot for 1st time

RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Vick, Larry Fitzgerald and Terrell Suggs are among the college football stars who will be considered for induction to the Hall of Fame for the first time this year.

The National Football Foundation released Monday a list of 78 players and nine coaches from major college football who are on the Hall of Fame ballot. There also are 101 players and 32 coaches from lower divisions of college football up for consideration.

Vick, who led Virginia Tech to the BCS championship game against Florida State as a redshirt freshman in 1999, is among the most notable players appearing on the ballot in his first year of eligibility.

Vick finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1999. He played one season of college football before being drafted No. 1 overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001. Vick’s professional career was interrupted when he served 21 months in prison for his involvement in dog fighting.

Fitzgerald was the Heisman runner-up in 2003 to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White. He scored 34 touchdowns in just two seasons at Pitt.

Suggs led the nation in sacks with 24 in 2002 for Arizona State.

The 2024 Hall of Fame class will be chosen by the National Football Foundation’s Honors Court and announced in January. Induction into the Atlanta-based hall is the following December.

Alabama freshman DB Mitchell says he wasn’t sure he’d get to play again after arrest

Mickey Welsh / Advertiser / USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama defensive back Tony Mitchell said he feared his football career was over after his arrest on a drug charge.

The Crimson Tide freshman said in a video posted Sunday on social media that he knew “something much bigger could have happened.”

A judge in Holmes County, Florida, sentenced Mitchell to three years of probation with a fine and community service on May 24 after Mitchell pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis.

“I didn’t know if I’d be able to play football again, but I continued to work out and stay close with the Lord and those who love me unconditionally,” Mitchell said. “During those times, it helped me to keep my mind off it. But when I was by myself looking at social media, what everybody had to say about it, it just felt like it happened again.

“I didn’t sleep at night.”

He was suspended from the Alabama team following the arrest, but Mitchell’s father, Tony Sr., posted on Facebook last week that the defensive back had been reinstated. An Alabama spokesman declined to comment on Mitchell’s status.

Tony Mitchell Sr. shared his son’s video on Facebook, saying it was filmed during a talk to youth.

“I was doing things I knew I shouldn’t to try to fit in,” the younger Mitchell said, “but not everybody’s your friend.”

Mitchell, who is from Alabaster, Alabama, was a four-star prospect and the 15th-rated safety in the 247Composite rankings.

He had been charged in March with possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell after a traffic stop when authorities said he drove over 141 mph (227 kph) while trying to evade deputies in the Florida Panhandle. A deputy had spotted Mitchell’s black Dodge Challenger traveling 78 mph (125 kph) in a 55 mph (88 kph) zone on a rural highway north of Bonifay.

He also received 100 hours of community service and paid a fine of $1,560.

Mitchell and a passenger were both charged with possession of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver, according to a Holmes County Sheriff’s Office arrest report. The other man also was charged with carrying a concealed gun without a permit.