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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Nestled on a brown leather couch inside the Loft at The Biscuit Lounge, just a few miles from the Highlands neighborhood where he grew up, Desmond Ridder sat with his cellphone on his lap. His agent and managers paced, exchanging text messages while keeping their phones charged in a nearby outlet. But through the first two rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft, none of their phones rang.
It took longer than expected for Ridder to get the call, but once he did, the tears welling up in his eyes and the sound of the loud cheer erupting from the crowd huddled behind him were right on time.
While most projections had Ridder being selected anywhere from the middle of the first round to early in the second, the former University of Cincinnati quarterback finally received a call Friday night in the third round from an Atlanta area code.
"When I saw that number go across my phone and I saw the 'Atlanta, Georgia,' that's when I knew that's where I needed to be. That's where I want to be," Ridder told The Enquirer.
Getting the call from Atlanta: Desmond Ridder selected by Falcons
The call was from Atlanta Falcons General Manager Terry Fontenot, who then passed the phone to Falcons head coach Arthur Smith, who ultimately turned over the call to Falcons owner Arthur Blank. The trio informed Ridder that the organization was selecting the two-time American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year with the 74th overall pick.
— Keith Jenkins (@MrKeithJenkins) April 30, 2022
"I was absolutely nervous, 100% nervous," said Desmond Ridder’s mother, Sarah, who sat to his immediate left during the draft. "It was anxiety, just sitting there, waiting, and then the nerves hit once he got the phone call. Once we knew where it was, we were ecstatic."
Reactions to the selection: Desmond Ridder selected in third round by Falcons, second QB taken in NFL Draft
Surrounded by his stepsister Tia, his longtime girlfriend Claire, their daughter Leighton, Sarah, her husband Aaron and about 100 other family members and close friends, Ridder watched as three of his Cincinnati teammates – cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner (New York Jets), wide receiver Alec Pierce (Indianapolis Colts) and safety Bryan Cook (Kansas City Chiefs) – were selected before him.
Then it was Ridder’s turn.
After hanging up the phone with the Falcons’ brass, the third-winningest quarterback in FBS history turned to his mother and let out a nearly deafening sigh of relief. The wait was over. They both could breathe. And everyone in the room could finally cheer.
“There was definitely some relief,” said Ridder while sporting a Falcons hat that he pulled from a box that contained hats of all 32 NFL teams. “And then there was another fire lit, because I sat way too long. I felt like I should’ve been off the board a little bit earlier. But I can control what I can control, and I did what I could do from before the draft started to now. I’m just blessed to be able to be in this position to get picked up. But I’m definitely excited to go prove some people wrong.”
'Welcome to Atlanta': Celebrating the draft pick with his family
Ridder became the fifth Cincinnati quarterback drafted all-time (first since Tony Pike to the Carolina Panthers in the sixth round in 2010) and the second quarterback taken in this year’s draft. The Pittsburgh Steelers stayed local and selected University of Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett with the 20th overall pick.
Paul Daugherty: We should all enjoy Desmond Ridder's NFL Draft experience
Liberty’s Malik Willis, the other quarterback prospect ahead of Ridder according to most draft analysts, was selected by the Tennessee Titans with the 86th pick.
After a lengthy embrace with his mom, Ridder turned to a crowd welcoming him with more hugs, cheers and handshakes, while “Welcome to Atlanta” by Jermaine Dupri blasted through the room’s speakers.
“Everybody that was here tonight has been here from the start,” Sarah Ridder said. “So they’ve seen him from little league up, and have been around him as family, friends, teammates, brothers, whatever it was. They’ve been here, and they were here tonight.”
Several of Ridder’s former Cincinnati teammates were present at the quarterback's party over the first two rounds of the draft, including current tight ends Josh Whyle and Leonard Taylor, wide receiver Blue Smith, defensive lineman Jabari Taylor, linebacker Wil Huber and quarterback Evan Prater. Former Bearcats linebacker Jarell White was also in attendance.
Cincinnati offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli, the man who owned several of the records Ridder broke during his five-year Bearcats career (four years as a starter), said it was important to him that he was there to share in Ridder’s moment.
“What a great credit to him,” said Guidugli, who played for the Bearcats from 2001-04. “Just a culmination of all his hard work and the things he’s done for our university. I’m extremely happy for him, extremely proud of him.
“He got better every day. That was always his goal. He was steadfast in that, that he was going to be an NFL draft pick, that he was going to be a Pro Bowl player, that he was going to have a chance to win the Heisman Trophy. The kid’s a goal-setter. He’s going to achieve and he’s going to work to get it, and I don’t think that’s going to be any different when it comes to playing on Sundays.”
Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell did not make the trip to Louisville, as he was in Las Vegas with Gardner. But Fickell was still cheering as Ridder crossed off a major item on his to-do list.
“I couldn’t be more excited for Desmond and his family,” said Fickell, who led the Bearcats to a 44-7 record over the last four seasons with Ridder as the starter. “I’ve said this before, but he really is like a son to me. He was here from the start with us, and we really grew together – me as a head coach and he as our quarterback. This is really a special moment for him and for our program.
“The Falcons are getting a leader, a competitor and a quarterback who will do everything it takes to win on and off the field. He makes everyone on the field better. He’ll be a perfect fit for Atlanta. He got better every year here, and he is certainly ready to take that next step to be the face of a franchise and to lead an NFL team.”
Ridder, who had only two scholarship offers (Cincinnati and Eastern Kentucky) when he committed to the Bearcats out of Louisville's Saint Xavier High School in 2016, helped Fickell transform the football program at Cincinnati. Now, Ridder said he’s “excited for this new challenge” in Atlanta.
But no one is more excited than his mom, who will be making the six-hour drive (or about an hour-and-a-half flight) from Louisville to Atlanta to see her son play on Sundays and to visit her granddaughter, Leighton Elizabeth.
“It’s amazing that he’s close,” she said. “I can’t wait.”
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Inside look at QB Desmond Ridder's 2022 NFL Draft experience