FAYETTEVILLE — Senior John Ridgeway is enjoying his first season at Arkansas and hopes to cap it off with a win over Penn State in the Outback Bowl on Saturday.
Ridgeway transferred to Arkansas from Illinois State to play his senior season. Finishing the season in Tampa put a smile on Ridgeway’s face.
“For me, I’m from Illinois and it’s snowing right now,” Ridgeway said. “So being down here it’s nice walking around in shirt and shorts. Tampa Bay people have been treating us really nice and welcoming us with open arms. It’s a nice town. I’m enjoying it.”
Ridgeway played in 11 games and finished the regular season with 39 tackles, 11 solo, four for loss, two sacks and a quarterback hurry. Ridgeway talked about what the bowl practices have been like since the team’s last game was Missouri.
“Practices, we joke around and do what we need to do, but when it comes to locking in we lock in,” Ridgeway said. “Like last night we had fun going out and today we locked in, got our practice in, got our lift in and we’re trying to do what we want to do. We know when it’s time to lock in or not. So practice has been like any other game week. We came here and know who the opponent is, Penn State, so we just get locked in and play ball.”
Penn State has had some players opt out, but Ridgeway said the team isn’t concerned with that.
“We try not to focus on that right now,” Ridgeway said. “Our main focus is on Penn State. Everyone has players opting out. We had a couple players on our team. Just keep going and next man mentality. The next guy steps up. Right now we’re trying not to focus on all that stuff. It’s game week and we have Penn State on our mind. We’re just trying to go out 1-0 in the bowl game.”
Ridgeway was also very complimentary of the scout team for the looks they have given the varsity while preparing for Penn State.
“Our scout team practices good every week,” Ridgeway said. “I think we have the best scout team in college football hand’s down. Our scout team gives us great looks. There’s some days where a lot of guys are beat up, that’s every college football team, but our scout team did good today and did good last week.”
Ridgeway has been selected to play in the Senior Bowl. Since he has that invite secured Ridgeway could have opted out of this game, but he was having no part of that.
“I was always raised when you start something you’ve got to finish it,” Ridgeway said. “The season’s not over yet so let’s finish it. Why opt out of a bowl game to go play in Tampa Bay? I can say I got a sack and a couple of tackles in Tampa Bay’s stadium.”
As far as opt outs on Arkansas, why do you feel there’s been so few?
“We’re strong, we’re family, a tight knit group,” Ridgeway said. “No one wants to leave our side. Everybody wants to finish what they started. That’s the culture that was really here (at Arkansas) before we got here. Like everyone didn’t want to opt out, back out. Everyone wanted to finish what they started.”
Arkansas and Penn State has one common opponent and that is Auburn. Penn State defeated them while the Hogs lost to the Tigers. But Ridgeway sees some common things between Penn State and Auburn as team the Hogs have played that most reminds him of the Nittany Lions.
“Definitely Auburn,” Ridgeway said.
Many have touted this as a game of SEC speed against Big Ten power. However RIdgeway feels the Hogs can be physical as well.
“Big Ten that’s a good conference and everything don’t get me wrong,” Ridgeway said. “They’ve got guys that go in the first round every year. They’ve got scholarship guys just like the SEC. It will be a good game for sure. I’m glad it’s the first game on Saturday. Start the New Year off right. There will be some good college football starting at 11 a.m.”
Ridgeway noted that not only is it the first game of the new year, but a prestigious one like the Outback Bowl.
“The Outback Bowl is pretty nice,” Ridgeway said. “The division I came from never had like bowl games. You had to go the national championship so to still be in this season and playing in a nice Outback Bowl it’s been fun.”
Sam Pittman is in his second year as head coach of the Razorbacks. Ridgeway would love to be able to get Pittman and the Hogs to nine wins in Year 2 of being a head coach.
“It means a lot,” Ridgeway said. “Not only for Coach Pittman, but Arkansas in general. It has been a bumpy road at Arkansas the past couple of years so it’s nice to finally get back to where we were. Hopefully we start laying down the foundation we did in the summer and everybody keep building onto that. We will back to where we were.”
Ridgeway laughed when asked what it’s like to be in Tampa for the Outback Bowl?
“I’m like a fat kid in the candy shop,” Ridgeway said. “This is fun. Everyone is excited and juiced up. It’s closer to game day so everyone is starting to wind down now and lock in more. It has been a fun trip.”
Ridgeway and the team will have a walk through on Friday at Raymond James Stadium which was the home of the Super Bowl last year. Ridgeway talked about playing in this stadium on Saturday as well as AT&T Stadium against Texas A&M earlier in the year.
“Walking out in the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium it was so nice,” Ridgeway said. “You really got pumped. I can only imagine Tampa Bay stadium it’s probably better.”
Ridgeway complimented a true freshman who impressed him during these bowl practices and feels he has a bright future at Arkansas.
“Cam Ball,” Ridgeway said. “A big freshman D-tackle. He stepped up a lot. I enjoyed watching him too. He’s a big kid. A big freshman and like 6-4, 300 pounds. You don’t get a lot of freshmen that mature with body and physicality. So watching him and kind of showing him the ropes. He still has that high school fundamentals. So getting his football IQ up and watching him, showing him the little stuff to critique to make himself. It has been amazing to watch him progress. It has been nice.”
The Razorbacks and Penn State will kickoff at 11 a.m. (CT) on Saturday and televised on ESPN2.