I was very lucky a few years ago (OK, MANY years ago..) to become friends with a guy named Jeff Nathan. I was the only student from Papio-La Vista at speech nationals, and for whatever reason, Jeff and his teammates from Millard North ‘adopted’ me and let me hang out with them. As fate would have it, Jeff and I had a broadcasting class together in college at UNL and again, his close circle of friends took me in like they’d known me for years. I remember one night in particular, Jeff asked if I wanted to come to their intramural softball game on campus; all the players were his friends from Millard North. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I LOVE softball, and was totally game. When I showed up, the guys were already on the field practicing, including THIS guy.
Thanks to Nebraska Athletics for the photo!
My first thought, “holy crap!! That’s Pat Ricketts!”
My second thought, “ummmm.. is he allowed to play intramural softball?”
Yes. Yes he was. And their team DOMINATED everyone they played against.. mostly because of Jeff’s Cy Young quality pitching. (You’re welcome, Jeff.)
In the early 2000’s, Millard North was well-represented not only on the softball field, but at Memorial Stadium. Eric Crouch, Mike McClaughlin, Judd Davies and Pat Ricketts.. they all played together in high school, were recruited together to come to Nebraska, and played together as Huskers.
“It was really neat to go from high school to college, to bring that work ethic,” Ricketts told me in a recent interview. “We had a lot of pride, and still do have a lot of pride, as Millard graduates and especially as Mustang graduates.”
Each player made an impact during his time at Nebraska (Crouch going on to win the Heisman Trophy), and Ricketts was no exception. The cornerback was a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week his junior year in 2002, and as a senior, was part of the defense that set a school record, leading the nation with 32 interceptions. One of those in 2003 was by Ricketts against rival Colorado.
Still, Ricketts’ favorite moment as a Husker came off the field.
“My sophomore year, I earned a Blackshirt,” said Ricketts. (Blackshirts are an iconic symbol awarded to members of Nebraska’s defense for strong performance and leadership.) “That was the first Blackshirt I was able to earn, it was right after practice. It was a complete surprise.”
Ricketts’ advice to current players is to have a good time, because it goes by way too fast. In a way, he always knew that, and knew what path he would take when his playing days came to an end.
“I worked in several financial institutions, and with the family starting TD Ameritrade in town, that’s what I grew up around,” said Ricketts. He worked hard in the classroom at Nebraska, landing on the Honor Roll nearly his entire college career. Today, he is President and CFO of Vintage Financial Group offering investment advice to both his clients and the public as a frequent guest on KETV First News Weekend.
Ricketts married his college sweetheart, Kirstin (who also came to those softball games!), now a fellow Vintage associate; together they have three children.
Ricketts also remains committed to the school district that helped shape him as a kid. He is currently President of the Millard Public Schools Board, playing a key role in guiding the future of 23,000 students. He hopes to someday see some of those kids wearing red ‘N’ jerseys (maybe even his own boys!)
“It’s extremely important to get those in-state kids down to Lincoln, down to the University,” said Ricketts. “Those are bonds across the state of Nebraska, those small towns to large towns, to know that’s their boy down at the University. It’s fun; they’ve watched that kid grow up, and to be able to go on to college, that creates that fan base that is unique to Nebraska. It’s important that Nebraska keeps that tradition going.”
Ricketts says this fall, like every other year, he’ll be watching Nebraska’s Blackshirts, a group he calls a fraternity. I’m guessing once or twice, he’ll catch a game with his other brothers, his longtime friends from Millard North.
Here’s to a great season, and to friendships that stand the tests of time, change, and intramural softball.