Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler didn't want Jim Ritcher, and Lou Holtz left North Carolina State just as Ritcher signed with the ACC school.
Ritcher thought he'd play defensive end for the Wolfpack, who made him a center.
In the NFL, Ritcher got off to a slow start with Buffalo and the news media was already asking after his first season if he was the Bills' latest first-round draft bust.
And after playing center for one season, Chuck Knox had him moved to left guard.
Despite it all, Ritcher can look back now and say with conviction that all those things happened for the best.
He won an Outland Trophy and played on an Atlantic Coast Conference championship team at North Carolina State. He then lasted 16 seasons in the NFL and was part of four Super Bowl teams.
“You find blessings in it,” Ritcher said. “It all worked out.”
Ritcher on Thursday night was presented a replica of the Outland Trophy that he won in 1979 during the annual Outland banquet at the Downtown Doubletree. Winners before 1990 were awarded only a plaque.
No center had won the Outland before the 240-pounder, who relied on his speed and quickness to get to the second level in the Wolfpack's veer offense. By comparison, the next center to win the Outland was Dave Rimington in 1981 and '82 — he was listed at 275 pounds his junior year.
Ritcher, from Berea, Ohio, said Schembechler and Michigan thought he was too small to play major college football when the Wolverines passed on him. He was maybe 215 or 220 pounds at Highland High in Medina, but would go down to 195 during wrestling season.
Hayes sent former Ohio State defensive coordinator George Hill to check on the in-state kid. But the story Ritcher heard later is that the high school principal at the time wouldn't allow them to speak to him because he was only a junior.
“They never came back after that,” Ritcher said.
Outside of Holtz and North Carolina State, about his only other offers came from Mid-American Conference schools. Ritcher chose the Wolfpack even though Holtz said he might be leaving for the New York Jets, and was moved to offense under Bo Rein.
That started his trek to the Outland.
“Coach Rein wanted a center that could run,” Ritcher said. “I didn't want to do it, but what are you gonna do as a freshman on campus? Say, 'No, I don't want to play?' ”
Ritcher finished his N.C. State career as a two-time All-American, and Buffalo made him the No. 16 overall pick in the 1980 draft. The way he played center in college didn't translate to the pro game.
“Nose guards (in college) back then weren't that big, some only 200 pounds, and quick,” Ritcher said. “Coming to the NFL, the first guy I meet is Fred Smerlas with the Bills, a natural 300-pound guy they had slimmed down to 280, and faster than some of the 190-pounders. It was just different.”
After starting out as a backup and mostly playing special teams, the Bills moved him to left guard the next season to pull on sweeps and traps.
Ritcher went from 1983 through 1992 without missing a start, and was an All-Pro selection in 1986, '88 and '90. His name is now one of 21 on the Wall of Fame at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The Bills won the AFC East his rookie year and were a wild card playoff team the next, then went through a five-year stretch where they were a combined 20-53. They picked up quarterback Jim Kelly after two years in the USFL, started turning the corner and then played in four consecutive Super Bowls under Marv Levy starting with the 1990 season.
Ritcher said the lesson in Buffalo, as it was in Raleigh, was that it sometimes takes patience.
“I didn't know how long I'd play,” he said. “I was fortunate to be there just long enough to see it turn around and get back into it.”
Ritcher retired after playing for Atlanta in 1994 and '95. It wasn't long after that he was pursuing his itch to fly, and he has now been a commercial pilot for American Airlines since the late 1990s.
“There are so many things as a kid that you want to do,” he said, “but flying was something that was just out there that I wanted, whether it was professionally or on my own dime.”
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Video: Nebraska players honored