Lou Holtz brought Jim Ritcher ’86 from Berea, Ohio, to NC State in the mid-1970s to shine as a defensive end for the Wolfpack. But shortly after that, Holtz bolted to coach the New York Jets in the NFL, and Ritcher says fate dealt him a winning hand.
The result? A position change to center, which Ritcher accepted with some skepticism, a career that landed him in the College Football Hall of Fame and a 16-year career in the NFL that took him to four straight Super Bowls as a guard with the Buffalo Bills in the early 1990s.
In 1979, his senior year, Ritcher became the first center in college football history to win the Outland Trophy, the award given to the nation’s top interior lineman.
Ritcher, 54, now lives in Raleigh and works for American Airlines as a pilot. On Friday, he will be one of 10 people in the first class to be inducted into the new NC State Athletics Hall of Fame. We talked with Ritcher recently about the Hall of Fame and his time at NC State.
What does the HOF honor mean to you?…I was thrilled when I heard about it. When they called, I started thinking about it. I started thinking about all the players and coaches and sports personnel NC State had come through. I had to pinch myself to believe that it was true about me.
I know you since you left NC State, you’ve continued to be an active part of the Wolfpack famiy. Why has that been important to you?…It’s just a feeling. I grew up in Ohio and Lou Holtz spoke at a banquet there. He had [NC State standouts] Dave and Don Buckey there. I just left with this feeling that it would be like home for me. The university and Raleigh always have been.
What accomplishment are you proudest of or that sticks out the most while you were a player?…I’d say earning my sociology degree would be the biggest accomplishment. Football-wise it’s winning the ACC championship. We ended up winning the ACC championship in 1979. I had a lot of buddies on defense. They had a goal-line stand at Clemson. That’s the thing I remember most.
Was there any lesson you got at NC State that you apply to your life today?…Sometimes we whine and complain about situations not going the way we want them to. I think about God’s providence and how he loves us. When I came here, I was supposed to be a defensive end. I’m figuring to come in and be this great defensive end. I had signed on Friday, and Lou went to the Jets on Monday. …I come here and Bo Rein had taken over. First day on campus, he said I ran really well and he’d like to make me a center. I was like, “No way.” We used to get my little sister to snap the ball.
But everything he said to me turned out to be true. It still amazes me the things that have happened to me by being a center and an offensive lineman. … The attention I got in college and my pro career may never have happened if I would’ve played defense.