Durable doesn’t quite describe A.J. Ricker, though that’s how he wants the Missouri football team to remember him. Ricker is sturdy, yet animated.
When No. 22 Missouri plays Colorado at 1:30 p.m. Saturday on Folsom Field, Ricker, a senior center and two-year captain, will start his 43rd straight game and break the school record for consecutive starts.
Missouri is 6-2, 2-2 in the Big 12 Conference. Colorado is 3-6, 1-4.
This season it has been tough for Ricker to continue his streak, which snaps those of former centers Rob Riti and Mike Bedosky.
In the days before the Tigers’ 62-31 win against Texas Tech on Oct. 25, Ricker, 6-foot-4, 295 pounds and from Klein, Texas, went to the emergency room for flulike symptoms. Some weeks he has clomped around campus with a boot on his right foot to heal a nagging injury.
“Especially as an offensive lineman, I’d have to say it’s pretty amazing,” senior tackle Rob Droege said. “He’s gone through a lot of bumps and bruises to stay on the field and start every day, every week.”
Earlier in his career, it was a challenge to come to practice for Ricker and many of the team’s seniors. Frustration over the
Tigers’ poor performance the first year he played made him think twice about staying around.
When Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was hired after the 2000 season, though, Ricker told his teammates he felt Pinkel was right for the team. Pinkel said he was grateful for Ricker’s allegiance.
“He got totally committed to the program, day one,” Pinkel said. “(I’m) certainly very appreciative of his commitment to what we’re trying to do around here.”
A center is so crucial to a team that everyone must trust him, and it is easy to have faith in Ricker, Pinkel said.
“They’re at the point of attack all the time, they have to snap, which you take for granted, but they have to snap it all the time,” Pinkel said. “It’s like anything, if you’re building a football team, you start down the middle. We were very fortunate to have him when he got here.”
Ricker knows his job isn’t glitzy, but it’s essential.
“People don’t realize this, but there’s no play if I don’t snap the ball,” Ricker said. “The only time I can really get in trouble is when I snap it when the quarterback’s not ready, like vs. KU this year, on national television. That was awesome.
“That’s probably the only time I get recognized, when I do something wrong. Or when I say something bad after a game.”
If the Tigers lose, Ricker blames himself publicly. Pinkel does the same.
“If you lose a football game, that’s what everybody should do,” Pinkel said. “That’s what I do, that’s what they should do. If they’re saying that stuff, then they’re getting it.”
Ricker played tackle in high school and snapped his first ball after a workout the summer before his freshman year in 1999. He did not play his first year but was second string, shadowing Riti, an All-American.
“(Riti) was one of the best centers to ever come through here,” Ricker said. “When you can watch someone like that every day in practice, you do nothing but get better.”
Ricker has gotten more than gold stars for attendance out of his college career. He is the leader of the offensive line that blocks for the No. 7 rushing game in the country. He was named a preseason All-American and has a chance to play in the NFL.
“Maybe this record doesn’t mean as much about talent, or what I can do, but maybe my durability,” Ricker said. “Playing college football and staying healthy is a lot of luck.”
A lot of luck, but a lot of resilience, too.