A Letter To NFL GMs

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Dear NFL General Managers,

Some of my earliest memories from growing up are at my grandma’s house. Five-year-old me, just looking around for anything I could get my hands on: a golf club, a baseball bat, a basketball — you name it, I was grabbing it. I wanted to play every sport. And that’s how I started playing football. It was just another one of the many things I got into at Grandma’s with my friends.

But I think there’s part of me that always knew football was different. I could tell from the jump it was special. That it meant more than the other sports. By nine I’d moved on from playing flag football to playing tackle … and there was no turning back.

I’m from Louisville, so when guys like DeVante Parker and Rondale Moore made it to the league, that was a big deal. I remember how surreal it felt (and still feels), to see names I actually knew from my city playing on TV on Sundays. That became my dream — and I promised myself I’d do whatever it takes to get there.

I was on the bigger side for my age when I first started playing, so I spent a lot of my early days at linebacker. I played some at center, too. It wasn’t until I’d been playing for a few years that my coaches gave me a shot at quarterback.

But nothing was ever actually given to me. I always had to keep earning it. I played well in high school, but I wasn’t a guy who had all the college offers. I remember when Coach Wolford sat me down and we had, let’s say, a very honest conversation, about what I was going to have to do to play at the next level. He let me know that it wasn’t going to be easy, that I was going to have to fight for my spot. And honestly? Having to fight like I did — it was more rewarding that way. Because when you have to fight for something, you learn a lot about yourself in the process.

Pretty soon, I started to see my underdog status as an opportunity. Actually, to be frank: I started to see it as a challenge. I’d think to myself, Des, I bet they’re right. I bet you WON’T do it. I bet you CAN’T be that guy. Those challenges fueled me. They taught me to scrape and grind. And the way I see it, everyone has to learn to scrape and grind sooner or later, so I’m fortunate I learned that early.

One thing my position coach in high school, Dave Nurnberg, taught me was that you can’t just be ready to work. You have to be prepared, too. And those are different things. Going into my junior year at Saint Xavier, I’d won the QB battle and was about to start the first game of the season. Before the game, Coach pulls me to the side and says, “Are you nervous?” I’m like, “No, not really, but—” And before I can even finish my sentence, he says, “GOOD. Because nerves are for the unprepared.” As soon as Coach put it like that, I knew exactly what he meant. Nerves are for the unprepared. Those words have stuck with me ever since.

Desmond Ridder | Cincinnati Bearcats | A Letter To NFL GMs | The Players' Tribune
Aaron Doster/AP Photo

When I’m in a tough situation, I’m never nervous, because that situation is everything that I’ve prepared for and that I’m built for. So when it’s time to make any in-game adjustments, I know I can make them without panicking. “O.K., there’s pressure in the pocket?? No problem. Look downfield, Des — there’s your man.” “They’re sending the blitz?? Alright — now just get to the outside corner and run for the first down.” I’m always trying to have those internal monologues to keep myself focused. That’s the kind of quarterback my coaches trained me to be: prepared, calm under pressure, never having to force it. 

And did I mention I’m competitive as hell??

Anytime I’m competing, I just feel like I’m able to tap into something extra. I think with a lot of quarterbacks, they don’t mind competition. With me, though, I’d say it’s more like I live for competition. I can’t really explain it, but I’ve always been one of these guys where if I’m competing in something, whether it’s a conference championship game under the lights, or it’s some Wii bowling in the dorm, it doesn’t matter. (Wii bowling gets serious, for real. Apologies to my TV.) When I’m trying to win, I’m just in my element. That’s when I’m most myself.

One example is the first time I stepped on campus for my redshirt freshman year at Cincinnati. Coming off redshirting, I was still trying to figure some things out and find my voice. I also knew there was going to be a QB competition — and once I started focusing on THAT, it's like my instincts just kicked in. Suddenly, I was back at my grandma’s house, trying to get my hands on a golf club, a baseball bat, a basketball … anything. Anything to get out there and play. As soon as I got in that state of mind, the confidence just started flowing.

If you want to see that confidence on film, watch some tape of our game last season against SMU. It was Senior Night, and we knew going in it was a big one. We were 10–0 at this point, so everybody was talking about the rankings and the playoffs and all of that. But we knew we had to erase that stuff from our minds. We knew that every time we’d played SMU, it was a tough battle — that they were a team that’s going to punch you in the mouth. And one thing to know about me, is that a team with me as its leader … we’re going to punch right back. We jumped out to a 41-0 lead and never looked back. 

Desmond Ridder | Cincinnati Bearcats | A Letter to NFL GMs | The Players' Tribune
Jeffrey McWhorter/AP Photo

Listen, I won’t lie. I knew going into the draft process I would have my skeptics. They exist everywhere, on everyone. I know that people have their opinions and question marks about me as a player. And I know those question marks won’t necessarily go away, even after I get drafted — there’s going to be a whole new set of challenges in front of me once I get to the NFL. I know that, but as I said: I welcome that. The challenge of it, that’s what excites me most about this game.

And that’s why I wanted to write this letter. You’ve probably seen all my highlights by now, and analyzed all my film. You know how I throw the ball and how I read a defense. But I also want to give you something more. I want you to be able to hear directly from me about what kind of a competitor you’re getting if you draft me. And I’ll put it like this: You’re getting someone who’s obsessed with competing and addicted to winning. You’re getting someone who will never stop playing with the same joy he had when he first touched a football. And most of all, you’re getting someone who wasn’t born ready … but who’s been working his whole life to become ready.

I’m ready now.

Thank you for the opportunity.

—Desmond Ridder