SOMERVILLE, NJ – Hometown hero Theo Riddick was accorded the ultimate honor Monday morning on the football field where it all began.
Coaches, clergy, former teachers, members of the extended school family and students in the school’s summer football camp gathered under a sun-drenched sky as Immaculata High School renamed its football field in honor of the Detroit Lions’ running back Monday morning.
“I am so proud of you; you make every Spartan proud,” said Msgr. Seamus Brennan, director of the school and Immaculate Conception parish.
Riddick, who graduated Immaculata in 2009, smiled as the monsignor joked that many of the Jets and Giants fans in the crowd had an identity crisis, not knowing whether to continue their allegiance to the home teams or to switch over to the Lions; there were several Number 25 Lions’ jerseys in the crowd, with Riddick’s name stitched across the back.
The school’s athletic director, Thomas Gambino said Riddick was “the ultimate Spartan,” while always being “humble and approachable.”
Retired Spartans football coach Pierce Frauenheim was effusive in his praise of his former standout player, who scored 52 touchdowns during his four years in the backfield for the Spartans.
He holds the school record for scoring the most touchdowns in a season (23) in 2006. During his four years as a Spartan, Riddick rushed for over 4,000 yards. Over a three-year period, he scored 312 points, a school record, as well as scoring 138 points in the 2006 season. As a sophomore, Riddick was a key player in the Spartans State Championship run, with the team going 12-0.
“He worked as hard as anyone,” Frauenheim said, praising the NFL running back as “a good man who has demonstrated that time and time again.”
Frauenheim also reminisced about Riddick’s visit to the University of Notre Dame at the beginning of his senior year by which time Division I football coaches across the country were heavily scouting the talented athlete.
Riddick, however, had already made up his mind.
“‘You can tell all those coaches not to waste their time,’ ’’ Frauenheim recalls Riddick telling him. “He could have had any one of 300 scholarships,” Frauenheim added.
Riddick had a standout career at Notre Dame as a wide receiver and running back. He scored 13 touchdowns during his college career. During his senior year, he led Notre Dame with 190 carries for nearly 1,000 yards and tallied a team-best 1,287 all-purpose yards; his reception total is the fifth-most for a running back in single-season school history.
While at Notre Dame, he participated in the team’s community service outreach program and graduated with his degree in communications in three-and-a-half years.
After graduating in 2013 he entered the NFL draft and was taken on the sixth round by the Lions. He spent his first totwo seasons on special teams and as a backup running back. Last year was his breakout season as he led all NFL running backs with 80 receptions, setting a franchose record for single season receiving yards as a running back.
Speaking at a podium set up in the end zone of the field, Riddick kept his remarks brief, thanking his coaches, teachers, staff and community for their support over the years, and encouraging the young players ready for their first day of summer camp to remain focused and determined.
‘Anything is possible,” Riddick told the cluster of young players sitting cross-legged in front of him.
Frauenheim helped Riddick unveil the ceremonial banner reading “Theo Riddick Field” fastened to a chain link fence behind the goal post at the north end of the field.
Before setting off to work with the young players at the summer camp, Riddick spent time posing for pictures, signing autographs and catching up with his hometown friends and fans.