Junior defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway has big shoes to fill.
With departing defensive tackle Malcom Brown projected to be taken in the NFL Draft’s first round, the Longhorns are looking to replicate the production and leadership Brown brought to the defensive front.
“Replacing Malcom? I don’t know,” Ridgeway said. “It’s not about replacing him. It’s about stepping up and doing the job.”
Although Ridgeway won’t necessarily be replacing Brown, the Longhorns will need him to play a similar role. Ridgeway burst onto the scene last season while filling in for injured senior Desmond Jackson, and he immediately became one of Texas’ biggest playmakers, finishing second to Brown in sacks with six while recording nine-and-a-half tackles for loss.
If he can replicate, or even improve upon, his production from last season, Texas’ defense will be in good shape.
“He’s so strong, so powerful, and he can get off blocks and make plays,” head coach Charlie Strong said last season.
While Ridgeway stood out as one of the Longhorns’ defensive staples in 2014, he’s still looking to improve upon his weaknesses. He has the skill set to become a force on Texas’ defensive line, but he said he can work on the technical aspects of his position.
“This year, that’s the one thing that I’m trying to focus on — to get my fundamentals down and get better at the little things that I didn’t do right,” Ridgeway said.
If spring play is any indication, Ridgeway seems to be doing his job. Strong has recently used words such as mainstay and great to describe Ridgeway and his play through the offseason.
In Saturday’s Orange-White scrimmage, Ridgeway made only three tackles, but he was still able to cause disruption in the backfield and get pressure on the quarterback. Ridgeway’s play helped the entire defensive line control the trenches, and that is something of which he is especially proud.
“The defensive line is the one that always has to stand up,” Ridgeway said. “It’s always been up front. If you’re not good up front, the whole defense collapses.”
Ridgeway has led the unit with his play, but the next step is stepping into a leadership role in the locker room.
“I see Hassan Ridgeway leading the D-Line room,” senior cornerback Duke Thomas said.
While his coaching staff and teammates have shown confidence in him as a leader, Ridgeway envisions the entire team stepping up.
“You can’t do it by yourself, so everybody has to grow a little bit,” Ridgeway said. “In our positions, everybody has to take a little bit of leadership and step up on their own. We’re going to obviously have somebody lead it, but everybody has to grow up.”
Ridgeway has been persistent about the Longhorns improving this season. And with over three months until the Longhorns travel to South Bend, Indiana, to take on Notre Dame in the season opener, he and his teammates still have time to restore the defense’s dominant presence from last season with the same determination Ridgeway has shown so far.
“We might be tired and barely making it, but we’re still going to keep going,” Ridgeway said. “We aren’t going to give up, and we aren’t going to bow down to anybody.”