Since he was little, TJ Ricks has had a desire to build things, put things together. He studied engineering in high school and as an electrical systems technology major in college it is his desire to someday build hardware and software for computers.
The past couple of years Ricks has been constructing something else: quite a career for himself as a linebacker at Old Dominion.
In fact, Ricks has been downright dominant at times. While there are several examples of his tenacity, there is none better than his performance October 17 against visiting Charlotte when he recorded a school-record 18 tackles. His 10 solo tackles alone, which included a sack, were more than any other player. The redshirt junior also forced a fumble and returned another fumble 28 yards to set up the offense in good field position.
Not bad for a day’s work.
“I feel like this season has gone great,” said Ricks, who leads Conference USA with 10.3 tackles per game. “I am just doing my best to help the team out, read my keys and make plays.”
It has not always been that way at ODU for Ricks, whose initials stand for Terrance Jamal. After not receiving a single scholarship offer coming out of Kecoughtan High (Hampton, Vir.) he decided to walk-on at ODU in the fall of 2012 because he was attracted to what at the time was a successful FCS program in the Colonial Athletic Association.
“I wanted to come to ODU because they had a winning program,” he said. “I did not win a lot in high school and I wanted to be a part of something good.”
It took two years before the going would get good. Ricks’ first season with the Monarchs was spent on the scout team as a redshirt. “It was difficult at first because when I got here walk-ons did not get many reps,” he said. “I would get three or for reps at practice and was on special teams a lot.”
It was on special teams he mostly played during his first year as an active player in 2013. When he reported for fall camp last year he was still without a scholarship.
“I just kept telling myself to keep working hard and the hard work is going to pay off,” said Ricks, who has 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. “I knew that if I worked hard enough I would eventually earn a scholarship. I kept working hard and persevered during that time.”
His two-year wait was over when coach Bobby Wilder awarded Ricks a scholarship toward the end of last year’s camp. It was a moment he will not soon forget.
“It was a great burden lifted off my parents’ shoulders because they did not have to pay for my schooling anymore,” he said. “When I told my parents my mother almost cried. It was a great feeling and one of the best moments of my life.”
Last season he began to record some nice moments on the field when he placed second on the team in both tackles (80) and tackles for loss (7). While there was little question about his ability to continue to progress as a difference-maker on defense more was expected out of Ricks intangibly.
“I had been more of a leader by example and the coaches talked to me before this season and told me I need to be more of a vocal leader,” he said. “I have tried to step into that role. At first I was uncomfortable because I am more naturally on the quiet side, but I have gotten used to it.”
Ricks, who is among the nominees for the Brandon Burlsworth Trophy awarded to the nation’s top player who began his career as a walk-on, has gotten used to piling up some big-time tackle numbers. Twelve of his 18 tackles versus Charlotte came in the second half.
“In the first half I did not think I played that well,” he said. “In the second half I stepped it up, but I did not know I had 18 tackles, so when they told me I was kind of surprised.”
These days nobody is surprised by Ricks’ performance.