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MIAC Profiles of Excellence: T.J. Ridley, Gustavus Adolphus College

floated rightby Rich Mies, CSN Mapping the MIAC Columnist

Among the characteristics that separate the leaders from the followers are a positive attitude, dependability and a commitment to excellence. These attributes also translate into success beyond the playing fields. T.J. Ridley is blessed with these traits, which has enabled him to be a leader of the Gustavus Adolphus College hockey and football teams, as well as a leader of the community on campus.

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floated left“T.J. is an awesome student-athlete,” Gustavus football coach Peter Haugen states. “He is also a leader. His positive attitude and humble spirit are two reasons that he is so highly respected by his coaches and his peers. T.J is dependable, a player you can count on to be prepared and ready to do whatever is asked of him.”

Those same qualities that make him a leader on the field have helped him develop as a leader off the field, too. He has been a member of Tau Psi Omega (the “Reds”), the oldest fraternity on campus, since his sophomore year. The “Reds,” are made up of primarily football players and other athletes. They have weekly social events and are involved in numerous community service programs. They have conducted food drives and volunteer with the local Special Olympics.

T.J. is also active in the Student Athlete Volunteer Educators (SAVE) program on campus. SAVE is a group of Gustavus athletes who are devoted to educating their fellow athletes on healthy lifestyle choices.

He is a Teaching Assistant in the Biology department, primarily working in the lab sessions.

T.J. is a Biology, pre-medicine major, carries a 3.95 GPA, and will graduate in May. He is in the process of applying to various medical schools. “I know I want to do some sort of surgery, maybe some sort of sports medicine,” he said of his long-range plans. “I am also getting a management minor so I have the ability to pursue a job in the business of science.”

In preparation for that career path, T.J. has logged more than 100 hours of volunteer service at Fairview Southdale Hospital during the last three summers. “I also worked 24 hours a week including overnight shifts over the last two summers at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) as a volunteer research associate,” he said.

T.J. spent 10 days last summer volunteering in Ecuador with Medical Ministries International, helping with the surgery and clinic teams. “We set up a surgery team in a small hospital and also set up a traveling clinic,” he said. “With the surgery team, I observed numerous surgeries and helped the doctors during consultations. At the clinic, I helped the doctors with general checkups and had the opportunity to learn how to give cortisone injections. We were able to provide Ecuadorians with health care for $1 and we were also able to provide them prescription medications.”

He was recently named a semifinalist for the 2009 William V. Campbell Trophy, formerly known as the Draddy Trophy. T.J. is one of two MIAC football players to be named a semifinalist, and is the third Gustavus player to be so honored. He is one of the candidates for the 2009 National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athlete Awards.  

T.J. was recently named Academic All-District by CoSIDA and ESPN The Magazine. Last year, he received Academic All-American honors, as well as Academic All-District (All-American honors will be announced later this winter). He has been named Academic All-MIAC each of the past four semesters.

T.J. was born in Edina. He has a younger sister, Kalli, who is attending Mount Mercy College. “She played hockey and flag football in high school, but isn’t playing any sports in college,” T.J. said.

He attended Edina High, where he played football and hockey. “I also played lacrosse, which wasn’t a varsity sport until after I graduated,” he said. “It was still a club program when I played. I was team captain and we won the State championship in my senior year.”

floated rightOn the gridiron, T.J. played quarterback on the freshman and sophomore teams. He dressed for varsity his sophomore year but did not see playing time. As a junior, T.J. played on the Hornets’ special teams and Edina won half of its games. “We had a new coach my senior year,” T.J. said, “I switched to strong safety and started. We went 7-4 and lost in the second round of Sections to Eden Prairie.”

He earned All-Conference honors that season, and received the Coach’s Award. “That is a leadership award,” he explained. “It is given to the player who is most like an ‘assistant coach’ on the field.”

Edina has a long tradition of success on the ice. Their youth and high school programs have won many state championships and are consistently among the top in the area. T.J. started skating when he was three, and began playing organized hockey with the Edina Youth Hockey Association in first grade. He played in the program through the end of Bantams, the final season of which coincided with his freshman year of high school.

T.J. spent the next three seasons on the Hornets’ varsity. He saw playing time at defense, right wing, left wing and center. “I started my sophomore year on the JV but worked my way to the varsity by midseason,” he recalled. “We had a really good team that year and were ranked No. 1 in the state most of the year.” That season, Wayzata upset Edina in the Section semifinals.

His junior year, the Hornets were not as talented as the prior season, but they still won their conference. They lost in the Section semifinals to Bloomington Jefferson.

T.J. was team captain and was named team MVP. “We played one of the toughest schedules in the state,” he said. They lost in the first round of Sections to Benilde, but T.J. was named to the All-Conference team.

When he first began considering colleges, T.J. did not plan to continue playing sports. “I really didn’t think much about playing college sports,” he said. “My plan was to go to the University of Wisconsin as a student only.”

However, coaches for both football and hockey from many of the schools in the MIAC began talking to him about opportunities of continuing to play while in college. “Hamline, Gustavus and St. Olaf were the main ones,” he recalled. “I decided on Gustavus because both coaches were encouraging about me playing both hockey and football, as well as the academics Gustavus offers.”

In football, T.J. saw action on special teams in six varsity games. GAC posted a 4-4 record, taking fifth place in the MIAC. Overall, they were 6-4. His sophomore year, T.J. played in the defensive backfield, where he posted 27 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles. That year, the Gusties were 3-5 in conference play and 5-5 overall. Before the season started last fall, longtime coach Jay Schoenebeck announced it would be his final season at the helm of GAC. The Gusties posted a 4-4 MIAC record and were 6-4 overall. T.J. had two interceptions along with 38 tackles.

Prior to the start of the season this fall, T.J. suffered a foot sprain that limited his playing time in the first two games. “My injury was diagnosed as a sprain of the lisfranc joint in the middle of my foot,” he said. T.J. bounced back from the injury to notch 27 tackles along with one fumble recovery, helping GAC to a 3-5 record and a tie for fourth place. Overall, they were 4-6.

floated leftOn the ice, T.J. spent his freshman season on the JV, but moved up to the varsity as a sophomore. He scored three goals with an assist that season, helping GAC to a 10-6-0 record in MIAC play and a fourth place finish. They lost 5-3 to Saint John’s in the opening round of the MIAC Playoffs, closing the year 13-12-1.

“Coming into the season [last year], we knew we had a lot of talent and felt we had a team that could be special,” T.J. said. They proceeded to put together one of the finest seasons in the storied history of Gustavus men’s hockey. After finishing tied for second in the MIAC at 10-6-0, they were seeded second in the MIAC Playoffs. Gustavus beat St. Thomas 3-1 in the semifinals to reach the championship game for the first time since 2002. They beat Hamline 5-2 for GAC’s first MIAC Playoff title since 1993, and a berth in the NCAA Division III playoffs. In the NCAA playoffs, they defeated UW-Superior 2-0 for the school’s first trip to the Frozen Four since 1982. The Gusties defeated UW-Stout 3-2 in overtime to advance to the NCAA championship game for the first time in school history. They lost to Neumann College 4-1 to end their season 19-11-0.

As the football season comes to an end this weekend, T.J. is looking forward to lacing on the skates and hitting the ice. The Gusties are favored to win the MIAC this winter and another deep run in the NCAA tourney is not unlikely.

Looking back, T.J. is glad he decided to go to Gustavus and continue his athletics as well as academics. Besides the chance to play both sports for four more years, “it has provided me with close friendships and a great education,” he stated.

To Coach Haugen, T.J. epitomizes what a college student-athlete should be. “His success both on the field and in the classroom is very special. He has been able to achieve at an incredibly high level academically while being a starter in not just one sport but two. His consistency and commitment to excellence has made him what he is today.”

[The photos are used courtesy of the Gustavus Adolphus College Sports Information Office.]

The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) is widely respected as one of the premier conferences in nearly every sport competed in Division III. Year after year, the MIAC produces teams and individual student-athletes who excel in their given sport. At the same time, the MIAC schools maintain a reputation of commitment to academic excellence. This article is one in a series of spotlights on some of the young men and women who represent the league’s commitment to excellence, both in the classroom and athletics during the 2008-09 academic year.

This feature will be included in the “Profiles of Excellence 2009-2010″ book which will be available for order at RDM Publishing. It will feature profiles of student-athletes from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, written by CSN’s “Mapping the MIAC” columnist Rich Mies.