NEW ORLEANS — Every blocker Christian Ringo has left lying in his path of destruction this season is a message.
The same thing goes for every running back whose bell Ringo rung behind the backfield, every quarterback who was surprised by a big man moving that fast — man, he’s fast! — before getting trapped in his constrictor mitts.
Off the field, Ringo is polite and quiet, easy to smile. On the field, that smile is a snarl, and the message is violent, loud and clear — you could’ve had me.
“I had a chip on my shoulder,” Ringo said. “I just wanted to go out and play hard. It lasts. But I’ve had a passion for the game for a long time, that lasted with me too.”
You could’ve had me.
Ringo, rated a two-star prospect out of Forest Hill High School in Jackson, Mississippi, would’ve signed the dotted line as soon as a scholarship offer was presented to him by one of the big in-state schools.
But he didn’t have the measureables typically required for a Southeastern Conference lineman. The 6-foot-2 Ringo is tall, but was not tall enough, and he lost nearly 50 pounds between his freshman and senior years of high school, his baby fat turned into shredded muscle.
“I thought he was one of the best players in Mississippi,” said Mario Lane, Ringo’s high school coach. “But I guess he didn’t fit the prototype.”
You didn’t want me.
Ringo never got the offers he was waiting for.
“That puts a chip on your shoulder. Trust me it does,” said Ringo’s close friend, Justin Hamilton, another Mississippi native who didn’t get what he wanted in the form of a big-time offer. “You’re looking forward to go to Mississippi, you’re expecting to get your Mississippi offers and they don’t offer you.
“You feel as if they didn’t give you the opportunity you deserve.”
An upstart Cajuns coaching staff with deep ties in Mississippi swooped in and gave him a place to call home.
“I used to just tell him, ‘It’s kind of like a girlfriend; you might want that girl over there, but you want to get the girl that wants you. She’s going to treat you better,’ ” Lane said.
Look at me now.
Ringo has terrorized offensive lines this year, and is on the verge of setting numerous school records after tallying 10.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss in his senior season. With one more sack in the New Orleans Bowl, he’d be the school’s all-time single-season sack leader and career sack leader.
Not bad for a two-star kid.
“Now, I would definitely think that both those schools probably wish they would’ve gotten him,” said Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth. “He can definitely play at both those places.”
Back then, Ringo didn’t have the size, but he had everything else. Now, Ringo is the complete package.
Strength and conditioning coach Rusty Whitt said Ringo is up to near 300 pounds, and he’s done that by maintaining a body fat percentage between 16 and 18 percent since he’s arrived on campus.
Ringo is, by all accounts, indefatigable in the weight room. Always has been. Lane said Ringo didn’t miss a single workout in his high school career, even when Lane would schedule them early in the morning.
“If you said 7 o’clock, you’d pull up at 6:45 to open the door, and he was already sitting there,” Lane said.
His appetite for hard work has only grown in college. To a man and without a prompt, his teammates listed him as one of the hardest-working and strongest players on the team.
There’s a joke that goes around in the weight room when players see a teammate going through the motions. It’s called “checking the box,” and they’ll chide each other if they see someone not giving full effort.
“He’s never checked the box,” said senior linebacker Jake Molbert.
“As soon as he walked in the door his freshman year, he was so eager to get after it,” Whitt said. “It was basically walk in, turn on the lights, give him his workout sheet, and he’s just going.”
Whitt said Ringo’s maximum bench press is somewhere around 450 pounds, his power clean around 350, but Ringo’s true strength is stored in his massive legs. They don’t even max him out on squats anymore.
“He can squat as much as you want to put on the bar,” Hudspeth said. “They don’t even max him out any more. It’s pointless to put someone under that much weight and risk injury.”
Seven hundred pounds? Yep, Ringo can probably push that. But that’s not the point.
“The goal is to create a dragster, not a tractor,” Whitt said.
Maybe what the Cajuns have actually created is a monster. Or maybe they’ve simply given him the resources to achieve what he’s always been capable of.
Lane remembers when Ringo made the Mississippi-Alabama all-star team after his senior year of high school. But the unheralded Ringo wasn’t the first choice. It was only after a player on the original roster was injured that Lane received a call asking about Ringo.
Sensing an opportunity, Lane lied. He said Ringo weighed 270 pounds, when Ringo was actually closer to 230. Ringo made the trip, and Lane’s deception was made clear. He got an angry phone call back from the coach.
“He called me back that night and said, ‘Coach, you told me this kid was 6-2, 270.’ I said, ‘Coach, all I can say is that he can play,’ ” Lane said. “So he’s down there a couple days, and the same coach calls me back.
“He said, ‘Coach, this is the baddest rascal we’ve got down here.’ ”
That encapsulates Ringo’s story: doubt eventually crumbles in the face of production. All the poor souls dragged down for negative yardage by Ringo this year can attest to the fact that he certainly does belong.
“This has been a dream season,” Ringo said. “As a senior, this is the way I’d want to end it. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Maybe after four years of proving himself, the sting of being passed over has finally lessened for Ringo. Maybe that mantra can change a tune by the time he suits up for his final college game Saturday. The message has been delivered.
You could’ve had me, but I’m good here.