Publisher, Sussex County Online
Photo (from left): Front row, Ridley's mother Lindsey Wilson, Anton Ridley, Ridley's step-father Calvin Wilson; Back row, Laurel athletic director Jerry Mears, Laurel football coach Ed Manlove, Laurel principal Karen Hughes.
LAUREL -- A year ago, Anton Ridley didn't give a second thought to playing college football. For that matter, he hadn't given the idea a first thought. Nor had any college football recruiters
But after a stellar season as a wide receiver and defensive back on the Laurel High School state tournament football squad, and after a hundred or so calls from Bulldog head coach Ed Manlove to college coaches, Ridley will be attending prestigious Villanova (Pa.) University on a full football scholarship.
"If anybody asked me last year if I thought I'd be playing college football, I would have laughed at them," said Ridley after signing his letter of intent to accept the Division I-AA school's scholarship offer on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2003.
Ridley chose Villanova over Delaware State after making a visit to the suburban Philadelphia school over the weekend.
"Villanova is a better school academically and athletically," said Ridley of his decision. "It's not too far away and it's not too close."
Known primarily as a basketball player before this year and regarded as a potential Division I basketball candidate by Laurel head basketball coach B.J. Joseph, Ridley blossomed as a football player in 2002 under Manlove's new offense.
But even after a second team all-state season, Ridley didn't have any college football recruiters seeking him out. The only scholarship he had a bead on was a basketball scholarship at a college in West Virginia.
But Manlove, in his first season with the Bulldogs, saw something in the 6-foot-5, 190-pounder that college football recruiters just didn't know about yet.
"At the end of the season he was unknown as far as college football recruiters," said Manlove. "I made over a hundred calls to Division I-AA schools on the east coast. I knew he was a good student (3.2 GPA) and has a great personality.
"Villanova, as soon as they saw the tape, said, 'Coach, you have something here'. He'll have to work on his speed and his strength, but the thing that separates Anton is his personality and his work ethic. He has great size and ability and he can play the game. He can catch, run, block and tackle. He has natural ability. He was like a man among boys."
Laurel athletic director Jerry Mears noted that despite Laurel's proud football tradition, it isn't every year that a Bulldog earns a full football scholarship at the Division I-AA level.
He said former lineman Jacob Byrd, a 2001 Laurel grad, is still on the Bucknell University squad, but other than that, he had to go back to the Bulldogs' glory days in the 1980s under former coach Mike Norton to recall a Laurel athlete who received a scholarship offer at that level.
Ridley plans to work on his speed and strength before going to camp at Villanova in August. That's when he'll learn whether he fits into Villanova's plans in 2003 or will be red-shirted.
Villanova, under legendary head coach Andy Talley, has signed 19 recruits so far this year, with Ridley being the only wide receiver among the signees.
The Wildcats reached the Division I-AA semifinals in 2002 before falling to McNeese State. Villanova utilized a high-powered passing attack led by senior quarterback Brett Gordon, who became the first Wildcat quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a single season.
Gordon averaged 38.6 passes a game and finished the Wildcats' 15-game season with 36 touchdown passes.
The Wildcats' top two wide receivers, Brian White and Shaz Brown, will be lost to graduation. 'Nova returns two of their other top wide receivers, freshman John Dieser and sophomore Noble Chapmen. Dieser and Chapmen combined for 65 receptions, 930 yards and 3 touchdowns this year.
That kind of offense would suit Ridley, who caught 25 passes for 506 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2002. He says that the arrival of Manlove and the offense that utilized the passing game with standout quarterback Andy Hartstein made the difference for him this season.
"I give thanks to coach and to Andy for getting me the ball," Ridley said. "All I had to do was catch the ball."
Ridley said he is learning toward a marketing major but that could change because the school is encouraging him to pursue a liberal arts track his freshman year before deciding on a major.
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