Georgia, Michigan among 7 schools interested in Northwood freshman Gus Ritchey

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PITTSBORO — There’s an athlete out of Northwood who’s drawing interest from top programs across the nation, receiving offers from schools in seven different states — located in just about every corner of the country — including two programs that are fresh off of College Football Playoff appearances this season.

The best part?

He’s still a freshman. And, if you don’t already, you should know his name.

Gus Ritchey, 16, is entering the second semester of his freshman year at Northwood.

On the field, he’s a 6-foot-3, 225-pound defensive end/tight end combo for the Chargers. He’s a magnificent run-stopper, an effective blocker and a young staple of a Northwood program looking to bounce back.

In less than a month, Ritchey has gone from just a standout freshman to a legitimate Division I prospect, receiving offers from some of college football’s hardest hitters.

On Jan. 2, Ritchey announced via his Twitter account that he’d received an offer from the Oregon Ducks, accompanied by photos of their stadium, uniforms and players: “After a great conversation with coach @KennyDillingham I’m blessed to receive an offer from the University of Oregon.”

That was the first of seven offers in a 20-day span.

Since then, he’s gotten offers from the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks, Colorado State Rams, Virginia Tech Hokies, Washington Huskies, Michigan Wolverines — CFP semifinalists — and even the Georgia Bulldogs, the defending CFP national champions.

“It was actually two nights before (the national title game) and I wasn’t really expecting that one (from Georgia),” Ritchey told the News + Record over the weekend, minutes after getting off the phone with the RedHawks, who had just extended him his latest offer. “I was shocked. I was like, ‘What is going on? This team’s literally about to play in the bowl game.’”

While these offers appear to be coming out of the blue, they primarily stem from his participation in the FBU Freshman All-American Bowl in Naples, Florida, on Dec. 20.

According to the event’s website, the Bowl “has been around for over a decade and has served as a showcase for future NFL players like (Panthers running back) Christian McCaffrey, (Jaguars quarterback) Trevor Lawrence and (Rams running back) Sony Michel.”

To summarize: it’s sort of a big deal. And if you’re one of 71 players invited, college recruiters take notice.

“I was at a camp about six months ago and ended up winning the MVP of the camp, so they invited me to the Freshman All-American Game, it’s pretty cool,” Ritchey said. “There, I made some connections and, ever since, it’s been great all around.”

Outside camps — like the NextGen All America Camps and even the upcoming Rivals Camp Series — are just one way Ritchey’s made a name for himself before and after his freshman season with the Chargers.

He credits the rest to years of hard work with phenomenal mentors.

Getting to work

Chatham County is notorious for its lack of school-sanctioned middle school football.

None of the county’s middle schools carry football, which often leads to high school teams where a majority of players have little to no organized football experience.

That’s given rise to outside youth football programs like the Siler City Jets or Pittsboro’s East Chatham Chargers — the program that Ritchey credits to helping develop his skills as a middle schooler and giving him somewhere to play football in the first place.

Ritchey was a member of the East Chatham Chargers as a pee-wee player in elementary school, then began playing in an Apex-based league during 5th and 6th grade before coming back to East Chatham to finish out his middle school career as a Charger.

“That’s how I really started in football, meeting these guys down here in Chatham that gave me the knowledge and everything,” Ritchey said. “It’s been great.”

One of Ritchey’s mentors over the last couple of years has been Bill Renner, a former NFL kicker and longtime high school head coach, who has worked with plenty of players in the Triangle and beyond through his organization, Bill Renner Football.

Ritchey said he met Renner — who’s also worked on Northwood’s coaching staff — during a little league game when his team played against Renner’s.

“After that, I was like, ‘Man, this team’s good. It’s a great offense, so imagine if I played tight end or something (for them), oh my gosh,’ so I started working with him,” Ritchey said. “The player I was when I started working with him from the player I am now, it’s just been amazing. He’s an amazing guy and really knows what he’s doing. … He’s been doing it for 30 years. It’s been an honor to train with him.”

Ritchey tries to go out and train with Renner “daily, or whenever I get the chance,” he said, and when he does, he works with some of the quarterbacks Renner’s also training, doing tight end drills and running routes to improve his footwork and catching ability.

Then, on his own, he’ll “go up to a field” and work on defensive line drills, which he does on top of weight training.

“I work really, really hard,” Ritchey said. “And I’ve been doing that for two and a half or three years, just trying to get to this point.”

Making the decision

It’ll be a while before Ritchey — who graduates in 2025 — makes his decision on where he’ll spend his college career.

Having received offers from 50% of this season’s College Football Playoff field in less than a month, it’s likely that by the time he’s a junior or senior, the number of offers will have skyrocketed.

While he’s undoubtedly thought about what his decision might be, at this point, it’s just too early to tell.

When it does come time to make his selection, a myriad of factors will be at play.

“The culture and the coaching staff, everything, even the little things, for me, are a big part (of my decision),” Ritchey said. “How do they treat me? Do they like me? Do they want me to be here? Can I get better at the school? How’s their fan base? Stuff like that.”

He’s spent time on both sides of the ball as both a tight end and defensive end, so he said he’s happy to play whichever position he’s being recruited for.

“It’s whatever the school wants,” he said. “I’m pretty good at both positions, we’ll just see wherever the school wants me.”

Growing up in Indiana, where he lived until he was 8 years old, Ritchey has always been partial to Notre Dame, another one of college football’s storied programs.

It’s safe to say that if the Fighting Irish made him an offer, it’d be tough to turn down.

“I’ve always loved Notre Dame,” Ritchey said when asked about his potential dream school. “My family loves Notre Dame, it’s just a great school overall.”

Until then, he’s already got plans to travel around the country for official visits later this spring for a couple of schools that have already reached out to him.

That includes making trips to Blacksburg (Virginia Tech), Ann Arbor (Michigan), Seattle (Washington) and Eugene (Oregon), where he’ll get his first taste of life as a sought-after Division I recruit.

“(From here) it’s just about the visits,” Ritchey said. “Trying to make more connections and learning more.”

Even with his recruitment picking up this early into his high school career, Ritchey’s got plenty of football left to play in Pittsboro.

Three seasons, to be exact. And he’s looking to make the most of it under Chris Kenan’s new regime, who was hired to be the Chargers’ next head coach just a couple of weeks ago.

“I actually have (already spoken with Kenan) and I love the dude, he’s fantastic,” Ritchey said. “Coach Kenan’s offense is what we need. … We lost a lot of confidence last year, but he’s coming in as a great guy and is already getting the players comfortable with him, so I definitely think we’ll bounce back and we could definitely go far.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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