NC State Selects First-Ever Hall of Fame Class | Complete Bios
RALEIGH, N.C. - Like hundreds of young boys in Buckeye Country, Jim Ritcher grew up rooting for Ohio State.
But his focus suddenly shifted toward NC State after hearing an inspiring banquet speech by loquacious Lou Holtz and talking with the Buckey twins, Dave and Don, two Wolfpack stars from Ohio.
"I was so enthralled with coach Holtz and the way Dave and Don talked about how enjoyable (State) was, how nice the people were, and how pretty the girls were,'' Ritcher recalled. "I said: `Boy, I'd like to see the school."
So Ritcher came, saw and signed with the Wolfpack and things couldn't have worked out much better.
He met cheerleader Harriet Kalevas, who became his wife. He also made All-America two seasons, won the Outland Trophy that's presented to the nation's premier offensive lineman, and helped State capture the 1979 ACC championship.
Now the former center, who went on to earn All-Pro honors during a 16-year NFL career, is joining nine other Woflpack standouts in State's first Athletics Hall of Fame class.
"It was unexpected, but I will cherish (the honor),'` said the modest Ritcher, who already is in the College Football and Medina Highland High Halls of Fame and on the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame.
WINDS OF CHANGE
Ritcher, a Raleigh resident who flies around the world as an American Airlines pilot, is a humble, 54-year old father of three sons who hasn't forgotten how he struggled to get off the ground as a college football player.
A menacing all-state defensive end in Medina, he was stunned when asked to make a position change by State coach Bo Rein, who took the Wolfpack job when Holtz went to the New York Jets.
"The very first day (coach Rein) asked me to move to center," Ritcher remembers. "I said: `No, I don't want to do that.' I was about in tears. I thought that's where you put your little sister playing backyard football. I wanted to play football."
While Ritcher resisted, Rein persisted.
At first the rookie had trouble simply snapping the ball. To make matters worse, senior nose tackle A.W. Jenkins kept beating him up in practice.
"Just let me play defense," was Ritcher's plea, but to no avail.
The decision by Rein, who died in a 1980 plane crash, proved to be the right one.
Toward the end of his freshman season, Ritcher was the starting Pack center on the way to stardom. His blend of strength and speed, plush a penchant for popping, enabled him to fire out and block linebackers as well as defensive linemen.
Lots of those yards Ted Brown and other Pack backs piled up resulted, inpart, from the holes Ritcher opened.
" His talent enabled us to outline certain plays we wouldn't have considered with normal players. He (also) would be a star at any position other than quarterback or wide receiver," said Rein, quoted on the College Football Hall of Fame website.
Typically, Ritcher deflected praise to his teammates.
"I was more honored, but it wasn't just me,'' he said. "We had really good teams, so many great players who didn't get recognized. Like the Bible says, we are all part of a body and one part is not more important than another."
But Ritcher was something special, a paragon among Pack linemen.
After shuffling off to Buffalo as a No. 1 draft choice in 1980, Ritcher seemed prepared for a pro career at center.
After one season of snapping, the Bills moved him to guard, which better utilized his speed and quickness. He was adept at trap blocking and on end sweeps and a player coaches could count on as much as seeing snow storms in the winter.
Durable. Diligent. Disciplined. That was Ritcher, who made All-Pro three times, played in two Pro Bowls and four Super Bowls with Buffalo, where he spent 14 of his 16 NFL seasons.
The Bills didn't win any of those Super Bowls, but they might have if there had been a few more Ritchers on the roster.
"He may be the best athlete among offensive linemen I ever coached,'' coach Marv Levy said in the Raleigh News & Observer. "He may be the best pulling lineman I ever had to lead a sweep; and he was maybe the best conditioned athlete I had.
"He had great values, was clean living, and by far one of the most respected players I ever coached," Levy added.
Reflecting on his resistant to change positions, Ritcher's thankful that happened. He figures the move to center at State and switch to guard in Buffalo prolonged his career.
"God was behind the scenes working things out,'' said Ritcher, a man of strong faith who has been a spokesperson for the Raleigh area Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
UP! UP! AND AWAY!
For the past 14 years, Ritcher has reached celestial heights piloting for American Airlines and fulfilling a fascination for flying that was born during his boyhood days in Ohio.
His schedule has sent him on international flights to places like Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Zurich, Milan, and Budapest.
"It's been a really fun career,'` he said.
In all his travels only once has Ritcher considered diverting and removing an obnoxious passenger. He simply walked back in the cabin and gave the man an ultimatum, which basically was: Behave or be out.
End of trouble.
Despite three-day road trips, Ritcher's and Harriet's family life and values have long been strong.
His schedule rarely forced him to miss the football games of sons John and Harrison -- who played at State -- and Nicholas, a rising sophomore starter at the University of Richmond.
With Nicholas still playing, John scouting for the Arizona Cardinals and Harrison interning as a scout for the Cleveland Browns, football likely will remain a topic at family gatherings.
And as John and Harrison roam the country searching for NFL offensive line prospects, they know the type to consider: Those with the character and capability of their Hall of Fame Dad.
By A.J. Carr, GoPack.com