Ricker has football lessons to share

Friday, September 14, 2007 | 2:56 p.m. CDT; updated 10:55 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

“One of the best classes you take in college is football,” says A.J. Ricker, a former MU center who started from 2000 to 2003.

The sport has taught him many lessons. Now, he’s passing them on as a graduate assistant coach at Western Michigan.

Lesson No. 1: You’ll find your way back home.

Ricker was born in Windsor, outside of Sedalia. But his family moved to Texas, outside of Houston.

But college football brought him back to Columbia, where his grandmother still lives and his mother graduated from high school (Hickman). In a way, he still calls Columbia home. His cell phone number has a 573 area code.

Lesson No. 2: Set your alarm clock.

“I’ll never forget that for the rest of my life,” Ricker said.

He’s talking about arriving late for a meeting during his redshirt freshman year at MU. Rob Droege, his roommate and fellow offensive lineman, had set the alarm clock for 5:30 p.m., not 5:30 a.m.

Their telephone rang and woke them up. Who’s calling me this early? Ricker thought.

Graduate assistant Chris Tabor was on the line. “Boys, you might want to get over here,” he said.

The two threw on clothes and scurried over to the offensive line meeting. They debated for five seconds who was going to open the door. Ricker did. It can’t be that bad, he thought.

He took one step before coach Andy Moeller started yelling. “I’m going to get fired for recruiting you,” Moeller said. Everyone in the building heard the tirade.

“Now, I set like five alarms,” Ricker said.

He staggers them two minutes apart starting at 6:30 a.m. and never hits the snooze button.

Lesson No. 3: You’ll regret it if you don’t test your body’s limits.

Ricker was a star at MU, a two-time captain and first-team All-Big 12 selection. But he wasn’t the biggest or strongest lineman. Still, he wanted to try out for the NFL.

“I didn’t want to sit back the rest of my life and be like, ‘What if?’” he said.

He bounced around pro football. The Chicago Bears cut him twice. He enjoyed beer as dark as motor oil while playing with the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe for a season. His playing career ended this year when he was cut by the Tampa Bay Storm, an Arena Football League team.

He didn’t worry. He had another job.

Lesson No. 4: Stay in touch with your mentors.

When Ricker played at MU, Bill Cubit, Western Michigan’s head coach, was the offensive coordinator for one year. Ricker admired Cubit’s fire, and Cubit loved Ricker’s toughness. The center wished Cubit had stayed longer.

But the two weren’t apart for too long. Cubit was the first coach Ricker called when he decided to start his career.

“It didn’t take me long to get him a job,” Cubit said.

Ricker has been coaching on Cubit’s staff for two years. Now, he’s imparting lessons to players.

“It’s not all about how much you can bench or how fast you are,” he tells them. “It’s how bad you want it.”

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