Wiregrass Ranch High (WRH) junior linebacker Dylan Ridolph is a physical force, a hard-hitting 6-foot, 200-pound missile in the center of the Bulls’ defense.
However, it is Ridolph’s mental approach that makes him one of the Tampa Bay area’s top linebackers.
A self-professed bookwork and history buff who is flirting with a 4.0 grade-point average, Ridolph often spends his free time watching history videos on YouTube, because, “it’s fun to see how in history, things connect. One event has a ripple effect that causes something else.”
In football, sometimes those events, like a missed block or blown assignment, have a ripple effect like, well, in Ridolph’s case, a sack.
Through six games, Ridolph is second in Florida’s Class 7A with 17 sacks, according to MaxPreps.
That’s just two behind the Class 7A leader, Winter Garden Foundation Academy’s Warren Sapp — yes, the son of the other Warren Sapp, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Pro Football Hall of Famer.
What jumps out even more than the number of sacks Ridolph has is the impact they have had on WRH’s opponents. His 17 sacks have resulted in 159 yards of lost yardage, more than nine yards per sack. By comparison, Sapp averages 6.5 yards lost per sack.
Pair Ridolph’s 17 sacks with his 26 tackles for loss, and you have a drive-killing specialist.
“Tackles for loss and sacks are great but they depend on the yardage lost — is it a one-yard or a nine-yard loss?,” says WRH head coach Mark Kantor. “There’s a big difference between 3rd-and-3 and 3rd-and-12. It’s also frustrating (for an offense) when you get a negative play on 1st-and-10. It puts you behind the sticks.”
Ridolph, who had 15 sacks last season and has received college letters from Harvard, Yale and the University of Cincinnati, credits much of his success to his pre-game habits. He says that as much as he loves studying history, he loves breaking down game film.
“I’ll call out where the play is going and who I would be going against on that play and I might watch that same play over and over again to see where the tackle is going, see how the blocker will set himself,”
Ridolph says. “It gives me an easier time to predict them and make my read (in the game) from there.”
Ridolph puts his homework to the test in games, and his analysis continues in live game action.
“In the beginning, I won’t give them a full-force rush, I’ll wait for them to make their move on me,” Ridolph said. “Before long, I’ll know what they are going to do before they get to me.”
Ridolph says he gauges if the offensive tackle he’s going against is a passive or an active blocker. It dictates which type of rush he’ll put on them. He’ll watch their stance. Do they lean a certain way? Are they in a balanced position?
Ridolph will even look at the way their feet are pointed as an indication of how the tackle will try to block him or tip off which way the play is going.
“By the lineman’s first two steps, I usually know where the play is going to go,” Ridolph says.
This acumen for the game and attention to detail also makes it difficult for the Bulls’ offense to run plays against Ridolph in practice. The fact that Ridolph knows no other speed but full-throttle makes it even more difficult.
“Dylan goes 100 miles per hour, no matter what the situation,” Kantor says. “There are times in practice when we’re trying to get a look on offense, that we have to ask him to turn it down.”
It’s a good problem to have.
“If I had 39 guys that go like that every day, we’d be a pretty darn good football team, even better than we are now,” Kantor said. “He makes the other guys a lot better.”
Ridolph’s highlight reel shows a linebacker intent on getting to the ball carrier. He lines up in a three-point stance and gets around the right tackle for one sack. He lines up on the other side and bowls over the left tackle for another. Ridolph stands poised on either edge and is on the quarterback before he can even set his feet in the pocket, and when he does escape, Ridolph has the speed to catch him from behind.
And, his ability to fend off blockers to be a force along the line of scrimmage and stymie the opposing running game is another attribute that likely makes offensive coordinators go batty.
“I don’t just go upfield on every play, I try to do what’s best for the team and not just myself,” Ridolph said. “Getting sacks is great but I’ll take a win over sacks.”
WRH is 6-3 this season (and 4-2 in Class 7A, District 8) heading into this Friday’s regular season finale at home against Auburndale. The Bulls are in the hunt for a third-straight playoff appearance but will need a strong finish.
Ridolph hopes the Bulls can keep moving forward, and plans on his doing his part by knocking the competition backwards.