FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – It can now be revealed.
The secret as to where Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley, a projected first-round pick in 2018, and Georgia wide receiver Riley Ridley, his talented younger brother, got their abilities is simple.
The answer is Kay Daniels, their 49-year-old stay-at-home single mother.
“When the boys were coming up, I used to run with them and throw footballs with them,” said Daniels, who has two other, younger sons who are not big-time athletes. “I wanted to make them stronger.
“Football, basketball, track – those are (usually) men’s things. But I was a single parent. I felt I had to go out there and teach them. I wanted to keep them active.”
Daniels said she was a track star at Fort Lauderdale High, running the 100 and 200 and doing the long jump, among other events.
“I didn’t go to college – that’s where I messed up,” Daniels said. “I was supposed to be in the Olympics because I could run fast – I’m serious. That’s where the boys get their speed.”
Daniels said her mother, Dorothy, was a prep basketball player in South Carolina.
Calvin and Riley’s biological father was Colin Ridley.
“He was deported to Guyana when Calvin was 7,” Daniels said. “They never saw him again.”
It all began at Sunland
When Calvin was in middle school, he and his brother began playing football at Sunland Park in Fort Lauderdale.
At their side was their cousin Shawn Burgess-Becker. And soon enough, they met another outstanding young athlete, Ronnie Hoggins.
All four ended up at Monarch High School in Coconut Creek, one of many small cities that essentially are an extension of Fort Lauderdale. And all four became Division I college football players.
Calvin started his career as a freshman at Fort Lauderdale Dillard and played as a sophomore at Hollywood Chaminade.
But when he transferred to Monarch, he and Riley joined forces with Burgess-Becker, a defensive back/wide receiver who would later sign with Alabama before transferring to Central Florida, and Hoggins, a defensive back/running back now at South Florida.
Monarch also had a young Jerry Jeudy, now a star senior wide receiver at Deerfield Beach and another Alabama recruit.
“Somebody’s gonna be in trouble,” Hoggins said when asked for his reaction when he heard Calvin and Riley had arrived at Monarch. “They couldn’t stop us.”
Indeed, that 2013 Monarch team, during Calvin’s junior season, went 8-3 and made the state playoffs for the first time in program history. They were only stopped, Hoggins said, because Monarch lacked enough talent “in the trenches.”
Hoggins said he covered Calvin in practice every day. Once he got to college, Hoggins said there were no big surprises. He had already spent countless hours trying to stay with a fast, elusive, college-level wide receiver.
“Steel sharpens steel – we both benefitted from each other,” Hoggins said. “Calvin is explosive. But the biggest thing about him is that he’s always wanting to get better, learning how to run routes and how to get open.”
Riley, meanwhile, was bigger than Calvin and played to his strengths.
“Riley was our possession receiver,” Hoggins said. “If we needed a catch on third down, and coverage was tight, we could go to Riley.
“Don’t get me wrong: Riley could stretch the field, also, like his brother. But he was our ‘first down’ guy.”
Hoggins said Calvin is more outgoing than Riley. If you were to spend an entire day with Calvin, Hoggins said, you would be laughing 24 hours straight.
But there is at least one thing Calvin is very serious about – and that’s his younger brother.
“Seeing them together, you could always tell who was the older brother,” Hoggins said. “Riley has always looked up to Calvin like a father figure.”
How Bama found Calvin Ridley
With their biological father out of the picture, it was only natural that Calvin served as a father figure for Riley.
But who was Calvin’s male role model?
The answer has been Calvin Davis, who coached the brothers at Monarch.
Davis met Calvin in January of the youngster’s sophomore year. Calvin had just transferred from Chaminade, where he had grown disenchanted with his “touches,” Davis said.
Offering to help, Davis put together a highlight film of some of Calvin’s best plays at Chaminade, and that was enough for the youngster to get his first college scholarship offer, from Louisville.
When Calvin finally got on the field for Davis as a Monarch junior, it only took three games before his tape caught fire with college scouts.
Alabama had heard about Calvin from his cousin, Burgess-Becker. The Crimson Tide coaches checked the tape and quickly became Calvin’s second scholarship offer.
After that, it was on.
“Within hours,” Davis said, “LSU, Tennessee, Miami and Florida State all came through with offers.
“Calvin remained humble. He was the same funny have-fun kid when he had one offer that he was when he had 50.”
Despite the small sample size of production, Alabama coach Nick Saban and his main South Florida recruiter, Mario Cristobal, were correct about Calvin, who went on to earn a five-star ranking and a designation as the No. 1 prep wide receiver in the nation.
Calvin caught 41 passes for 1,131 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior at Monarch. He also picked off three passes as a defensive back that season.
But because Calvin turned 19 during his senior year, he was ruled ineligible – as per Florida high school rules – for the second half of the season.
Instead of playing, Calvin spent the rest of the season as an unofficial Monarch assistant coach, passing his knowledge on to his brother and the rest of the wide receivers.
Calvin also played in the season-ending Under Armour All-America Game. He went on to set the Alabama freshman record with 1,045 yards. He also caught 89 passes, the second-most ever by a freshman among all FBS schools.
That surprised nobody who saw him at Monarch.
Riley Ridley: Out of the shadows
While Calvin was dominating the SEC, Riley – who previously went by his first name, Cavin – was being heavily recruited on a national basis.
Riley had a breakout junior season, catching 25 passes for 586 yards and six touchdowns.
But Riley was seemingly stuck in his brother’s shadow. Where Calvin was a Miami Herald first-team All-Broward County selection as a junior, Riley never got the same recognition. Riley made third-team as a junior and second-team as a senior.
Nationally, it was the same story. Where Calvin had been ranked the No. 1 wide receiver in the nation as a five-star recruit, Riley was a solid four-star player in the eyes of the media. 247Sports.com’s composite ranked Riley the No. 234 player in the 2016 class, the No. 46 receiver. He was No. 35 in his own state.
College coaches, though, seemed to hold Riley in higher esteem. He was heavily recruited during his senior year, and his mother wanted him to join Calvin at Alabama.
But that’s not what Riley wanted.
“Riley didn’t want to follow in his brother’s footsteps,” Hoggins said. “He wanted to make a name for himself. He didn’t want to be known as Calvin’s little brother. He wanted to be known as Riley Ridley.”
That’s why Riley chose South Carolina, at least initially, picking the Gamecocks on Jan. 2, 2016.
But that’s when things got crazy.
On Jan. 4, he backed out of his South Carolina commitment.
On Jan. 6, he took a trip to Georgia.
On Jan. 7, he committed to Georgia.
And on Jan. 11, he made it official, taking his first classes as a member of the Georgia Bulldogs.
New Georgia coach Kirby Smart, a former defensive coordinator at Alabama, told media members that Calvin Ridley persuaded his younger brother to switch to Georgia.
“His brother was very adamant that Riley come here,” Smart said this past spring. “I don’t know why. He just wanted him here.”
Making their mark in the SEC
Daniels said she has had no communication with the Georgia coaching staff.
Alabama, on the other hand, is very familiar with Daniels.
“Coach Saban, he is a blessing from God,” Daniels said. “He is a serious man, a wonderful man. He made my son who he is today.
“He makes boys into men. He is like a father to my son, teaching him how to be a respectful young man, teaching him how to pray. Coach Saban is a praying man.”
Daniels said Saban, Cristobal and all the Alabama coaches give her hugs before and after every game.
“The Alabama coaches, when they tell you something, their word is their word,” Daniels said. “They told me they were going to take care of Calvin, and they have, 100 percent.”
Daniels said she makes one road trip per week, flying or driving to one of her son’s games on a rotating basis.
This Saturday, she plans to be rooting for Riley in Athens, where Georgia plays host to Auburn.
So far, Riley has been slowed by surgery on a broken right thumb, an injury he suffered on Sept. 10 against Nicholls State, and then a sprained left ankle he suffered two weeks ago against Florida.
Since coming back from the thumb injury, Riley has been solid, catching two catches for 59 yards and one touchdown against Tennessee on Oct. 1, five catches for 67 yards against Vanderbilt on Oct. 15 and one catch for a 14-yard touchdown vs. Florida.
That’s it – that’s the extent of his freshman numbers, a vast difference between him and his brother’s monster 2015 numbers.
Riley’s ankle injury is not believed to be serious, And when he’s healthy, Riley, a 6-2, 197-pounder, has proven to be a willing blocker, according to Smart.
“That’s not normal for a wide receiver,” Smart told media members in the spring. “Riley sticks his face in there. He is a South Florida kid. He’s not afraid to block. He competes.”
Calvin, of course, is highly competitive, too.
He showed it again Oct. 1, when he had a season-high 11 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-6 win over Kentucky.
Despite virtually eternal double coverage, Calvin, a 6-1, 190-pounder, leads Alabama with 45 catches for 527 yards and five touchdowns. He is also dealing with a knee injury that has him listed as questionable for Saturday’s game vs. Mississippi State.
Sights set on the NFL
That slight injury is not nearly enough, however, to slow predictions that have Calvin leaving school after his junior season to enter the NFL Draft.
Lance Zierlein, an analyst for NFL.com, wrote recently that Calvin is “Amari Cooper 2.0, except faster.”
The reference to the current Oakland Raiders star wide receiver is a comparison many others have drawn. That’s because Cooper has made a similar journey to what is being projected for Calvin – from a South Florida high school to Alabama to a first-round draft pick in the NFL.
Zierlein said Calvin is the most talented receiver in the nation, even though he is not draft eligible until 2018.
“With exceptional play speed, elite separation ability and advanced instincts as a receiver,” Zierlein wrote, “Ridley simply needs someone to get him the ball.”
Davis, who coached the Ridley brothers in high school, said Riley is not as much in Calvin’s shadow as one might think.
But that remains to be seen.
For now, there is a significant gap in production between them.
“Riley is more physically imposing and probably stronger than Calvin,” Davis said. “Calvin is more of a deep threat. His speed and work ethic are what separate him. He is just so must faster than anybody else. The first time we ever threw him the ball in high school, he went 70 yards with a short slant pattern.”
Davis also remembers the last time Monarch threw to Calvin.
With the age limit, everyone knew the game against Piper would Calvin’s last. On the final play, Davis called “65 back-side post,” where the quarterback rolled to his left and threw it up to Calvin in the middle of the field.
“It went for a 40-yard touchdown,” Davis said. “It was the perfect way to end his high school career.”
When and how his college career ends remains to be seen, but there is no question that Calvin’s draft prospects are delightful to Daniels, who calls herself a “proud super mom.”
She had never been on an airplane until she started going to Calvin’s games last year. Now she’s a pro at flying, securing that window seat whenever possible.
Daniels foresees an easier life ahead.
“It’s been hard raising four boys into young men as a single mom,” Daniels said. “I’ve asked God to help us through life. Calvin said he’s going to buy ‘Momma’ a big house with five bedrooms and five master bathrooms and a three-car garage.
“He and Riley are going to put their money together after they make the NFL,” she said. “They are determined.”