February 23, 2009

Catching up with Brett Ratliff

Brett Ratliff took the road less traveled to get to the NFL as a quarterback. Largely ignored by colleges after high school, Ratliff went from junior college starter to backup at Utah to undrafted free agent. Now his perseverance though the adversity of his entire football experience appears close to paying off, as he will compete for a starting job with the New York Jets.

Despite a good career as a Chico High's starting quarterback where he set several school passing records, Ratliff did not receive much attention from major colleges. Rather than attempt to walk-on, Ratliff went the junior college route, replacing future first round draft pick Aaron Rogers at Butte Junior College. While at Butte, Ratliff played well in a run oriented offense while setting school record for touchdowns. Ratliff's play piqued the interest of new Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who was looking for an experience JC quarterback to come in and backup his young starter Brian Johnson. A severe knee injury to Johnson gave Ratliff his chance to shine, and shine he did. Ratliff played exceptionally well in leading the Utes to unexpected victories over BYU and Georgia Tech to end the season, placing him in position to start the next season.

Johnson's injury forced him to redshirt and allowed Ratliff to earn the starting spot. Despite Ratliff's play to end to 2005 season, 2006 saw Ratliff the target of criticism and derision not just from the fans, but from the coaching staff as well. Playing well on an injury plagued offense that lacked a true rushing threat did not earn Ratliff any breaks as he was referred to by head coach Kyle Whittingham as "the backup" on a few occasions. Even though his experiences at Utah were not entirely positive, Ratliff continues to follow and cheer for the program that gave him his chance. "I try to follow them as much as I can," Ratliff said. "During our bye week we [Ratliff and his wife, Shailey] came down for the Oregon State game and we were able to watch that on the sideline, that was a lot of fun. We were able to catch the TCU game on TV, my wife was able to watch the BYU game on TV - I was on the road and couldn't get the channel. We were able to watch the Sugar Bowl. I tried to follow them as much as I could and definitely rubbed it in to the other guys when we won the Sugar Bowl."

Following the 2006 season, Ratliff prepared for an NFL career, signing with an agent and preparing for Utah's Pro Day and the NFL Draft. Even after going undrafted, Ratliff refused to give up his dream of playing in the NFL, signing with the Jets and spending the 2007 season on the practice squad learning and adjusting to the pro game. "It's faster, but I had enough time to go through what I needed to," Ratliff said about the jump to the NFL. "There hasn't been a huge jump so far but one thing that I have noticed is that everybody is so much smarter at this level, they don't make as many mental mistakes as they make at the college level."

Ratliff played well in the 2008 preseason, playing above expectations and clearly performing better than any other quarterback on the roster, throwing for 499 yards and 4 touchdowns. Ratliff used that performance to move behind future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre on the depth chart, giving him an opportunity to learn from the star. "Just a bunch of little things," Ratliff said of what he was able to learn from Favre. "Looking guys off, certain things like that, just little things that will help to make my game better. It's not a huge difference, but it will add on to my game." Ratliff's performance during the preseason also earned him the right to compete for the starting spot now that Favre has retired.

Ratliff also knows his time and experiences at Utah will help him as he competes with Erik Ainge and Kellen Clemens. Ratliff learned a great deal about how to handle an open competition as he dealt with that before the 2006 season. What did he learn? "Don't get too caught up in the competition, just worry about what you can control, the way you play, and how you react to the situations you're given. Don't worry about the other guys, just worry about yourself," Ratliff said.

Despite the struggle to get where he is, Ratliff is grateful for everything he has learned, the ways he has grown, and the opportunities offered to him. Now he is set to capitalize on the events that have brought him to this point and earn a shot to lead an NFL franchise to the playoffs. "I think I've worked hard to this point, I think I'm ready, and I've just got to go out there and get it done," Ratliff said. "There's not a whole lot I need to change, just get more comfortable with being the starter, seeing myself that way."

Where does Ratliff see himself in 2009? "Hopefully as the starter, if not, it's not just about next year but about my career. If it doesn't happen next year it will happen down the road sometime."

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