LAFAYETTE — Forgive Christian Ringo if he’s anxious for Saturday, but this night has been years in the making, and he can hardly wait.
He left Lafayette for his parents’ house in Jackson, Mississippi Friday afternoon. There, he and a gathering of family members will congregate around a big-screen television on Saturday and wait for the moment.
It’s best that way, to be surrounded by loved ones when the moment arrives. There’ll be enough food, laughter and suspense to get them there.
When it hits, when the countless hours of work and sweat and hype reach their crescendo, Ringo might sink into a couch, disappearing into quiet joy.
The talking heads babble.
A bell rings.
Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao touch gloves, together at last, before they begin their violent dance.
“They’ve been talking about this fight for six years now, man,” Ringo said.
In the hours leading up to the fight, another TV — maybe a smaller one, maybe with the volume turned down, maybe tucked away in the corner where people will swear they’re not watching it — will broadcast the third and final day of the NFL draft.
There, on the secondary screen, Ringo’s life could change forever.
Then again, maybe it won’t.
The Cajuns’ single-season sack record holder went into this weekend’s NFL draft with no expectations, which seems preposterous considering the trail of destruction he left in his senior-season wake.
“A lot of scouts say they liked my film,” Ringo said.
They should’ve been blown away by it. Ringo ate whole meals behind his opponents’ line of scrimmage, then demanded seconds. He dragged down opposing ball carriers for a loss 20.5 times last season, a number that included his 11.5 sacks. He checked all the draft day buzz word boxes — explosiveness, strength, high motor.
But of course, the NFL draft isn’t all about the havoc a player wreaked on the field. It’s about projecting how that success will translate to the next level, which in Ringo’s case is a level exponentially more challenging than the one he faced on a week-to-week basis in the Sun Belt.
Part of that equation for NFL talent evaluators involves stacking a players’ quantifiable traits against a prototype. That was strike one for Ringo, who at his listed 6-foot-1 and 277 pounds is considered small for an NFL defensive lineman. Maybe prohibitively small.
Strike one may mean Ringo is out, at least as far as hearing his name called on that second TV, because just as much as the NFL draft is about the numbers on the field, it’s also about the numbers on the measuring tape.
“A lot of teams probably won’t draft me because they see my height,” Ringo said.
Ringo’s future may wait to be decided until after the draft is concluded, and it might be because the other far less prolific guy was an inch taller, 20 pounds heavier or a blink of an eye faster.
It was enough to make this reporter blurt out, mid-interview, “That sucks.”
Ringo just shrugged. It’s nothing new. Somehow, the man whose nearly 280 pounds make the scales creak has always been the runt of the litter.
“I’m used to it by now, man,” Ringo said. “My whole life, undersized, underrated, however you want to call it. That’s life.”
The key is making life bend to your will.
There was the Mississippi-Alabama high school all-star game he didn’t get invited to, the one where his high school coach lied when a roster spot came open and said the then-230-pound Ringo was a 270-pound diamond waiting to be unearthed. The angry all-star coach called back demanding an explanation, only to call again later in the week to describe Ringo as “the baddest rascal we’ve got down here.”
There was the lack of college offers for an undersized defensive lineman, outside of a few SWAC schools and junior colleges and that school in Louisiana that had until that point compiled exactly four winning seasons in his lifetime.
There was even the college experience itself. Though he may have played like it, Ringo was never the biggest man on the field. He defied his physical limitations through power of will.
Ringo rose from unheralded high school football player to professional football prospect by mastering the art of controlling those things that he can control, like his effort and dedication in the weight room that achieved near-legend status with his college teammates.
Those things that are beyond his control, like his stature and the 32 NFL teams deciding his fate? Just an addition to the long line of obstacles Ringo detonated to arrive at this point.
Sometime Saturday night, a buzzing in Ringo’s pocket may yank him out of his state of pre-pugilistic bliss. Some NFL team might force he and his family to mute the big TV and finally pay attention to that other one, because his name’s about to be called.
Or that moment will come after the second TV’s already gone dark, when NFL teams are scurrying to sign the best undrafted players. If his phone doesn’t ring during the draft? The way things have gone in Ringo’s football career to this point, he almost sounds like he’d prefer what’s behind Door No. 2.
“Oh man, that’d still be great,” Ringo said. “That’d make me go even harder to prove to the teams that didn’t draft me what they missed out on.
“That’s going to set the foundation for what will hopefully be a long career in the NFL.”
This moment has been years in the making, a light-heavyweight vying for a shot in a heavyweight bout. For now, Ringo will sit back and let it wash over him. But if his personal history taught anything, it’s that he’ll be the one throwing punches soon.