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Ricketts Turns His Focus from Gridiron to the Classroom at WIU


By Jeff Holt Published February 18, 2021 in The Burg Not even the best athletes in the world - like the famous Michael Jordan - know when the best time is to retire. Brett Favre was the same way in the NFL. On a smaller scale, Galesburg native Matt Ricketts has decided to step down from the game of football and continue to motor on as a student at Western Illinois University. He redshirted his first year at WIU and then played the last two years for the Leathernecks football team. Ricketts said it was a culmination of reasons - a back injury, covid and overall what he thought was the best decision for him. You can't blame him. His playing weight in college was 6-foot-3 and around 300 pounds. His effort in the weight room capped off at 330 pounds in the bench press and 515 in the squat. Q: On the college level, what do you feel was your "true" position to play at on the offensive line and why? RICKETTS: Guard/ Center and definitely not tackle. To play offensive tackle in college and D1 level you need to be much longer and athletic than I was. Guard/Center seemed more natural because of the type of play and my body type. Q: Can you take me through one play or game that you'll always remember at WIU? RICKETTS: Something that always sticks out in my mind is when we beat Illinois state my freshman year in Normal for the 100th game in the rivalry. Because of the significance of the game and ISU being a good team as they usually are. Plus, it’s always fun putting a beating on the Redbirds. Q: Did you enjoy to pass block or run block more on the offensive line and why? RICKETTS: Run blocking I would say, because it was easier than pass protection. I found it fun to read the defense and figure who the doubles were working to. Pass blocking is extremely difficult especially at the college level. It takes hours on hours of study to know the different protections let alone being able to have a quick, balanced pass set. Q: How did it help you to redshirt that first year at WIU? RICKETTS: Biggest thing was learning the X’s and O’s. College is a way different level compared to high school. You go from a basic offense at GHS to the same offense the Patriots ran with Bill O’Brien. Also, a year in the weight room to get the strength to be able to be on the same field as the older players. Q: What was the most impressive place to play on the road and why? RICKETTS: NDSU, the Fargo Dome feels like a big time place to play, super loud and great fanbase up there. Colorado state, Missouri State and UNI were also cool atmospheres. Q: You had great family support for your games at Western through the years. What was it like to walk out onto the field - or leave the locker room after the game - and see your family there? RICKETTS: Without a doubt the best feeling there is. To be able to have the support system I had with my family was unmeasurable. They were there for me during all the hard times like fall camp in August when you are physical and mentally defeated. So pretty fun when they are there for you after the games. Q: What was your favorite meal after a game at WIU and why? RICKETTS: Hard to beat Chicks but everyone and their mother goes there after the games. So, Chicks or Gelsosomo’s, we went there a lot after games too. Q: Sports can teach you great things in life. What do you feel you learned from playing football at WIU and what advice would you give a high school senior wanting to play college football? RICKETTS: College football is definitely an eye opener, it’s the ultimate humbling experience. The biggest takeaways from my football career are holding yourself accountable to the highest standards in discipline, focus and work ethic. Overall biggest thing would be learning how to get back up on your feet after being knocked down both physically and mentally. Advice I would give. Do what you want to do in terms of deciding to play or where to play. College football and especially D1 they pretty much own you and your time. So, don’t do it because of your friends, family, girls or what people will think about you. College football is extremely hard and none of those people are putting in the work you are. But the CFB experience is one I’m glad I had. Q: Academically, can you talk about a certain class that you've enjoyed or about the classes that you are taking in your major and what you enjoy about it? RICKETTS: Pretty much all of my ag classes I take I enjoy. WIU is an awesome school especially for anyone wanting to go into the agricultural field. Some classes in specific the precision agriculture classes, they are fairly new to WIU, so they are pretty exciting. Q: Your brother, Zach, has worked at a big-time level professionally in field maintenance in Major League Baseball and in the NFL. Could you talk about a memorable game you went to when visiting him? RICKETTS: Every visit seems to be memorable between all the MLB and NFL games. It’s always a blast to see Zach, Christina and Peter. I always enjoy working on the field and hanging out with the players. Most memorable without a doubt is the Raiders final game in the Oakland vs the Jags. Raiders have the craziest fan base without a doubt, it was an electric atmosphere. Something I will never forget. Q: If you could watch a professional game in person, what would it be and why? RICKETTS: NFL probably Soldier Field or Oakland Coliseum. Nothing beats a cold day on Lake Michigan to watch football. And Oakland is an extremely unique place to watch a football game. Q: Looking ahead, what does it look like for you with academics and your future? RICKETTS: Hoping to continue with an MBA degree, should finish within the next year. Then hopefully find some work around western Illinois working with farmers. (You can reach Jeff Holt at jtholt.theburg@gmail.com)

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