Feb. 15, 2012
By Matt Muzza
Navy Sports Information
Chris Ricks did not take the usual route to becoming a captain on the Navy men's track and field team. Sure, Ricks has the athletic pedigree of being an all-league and all-region thrower and he is universally respected by his teammates, but it would have been difficult to predict the journey of his track and field career.
Coming out of Reynoldsburg High School, outside of Columbus, Ohio, as a valedictorian in 2008, Ricks hoped to become a member of the Navy men's basketball team. Ricks was a two-sport standout in high school, excelling in both baseball and basketball, but because he was not recruited, he would have to wait until later in the fall to try out for Navy's junior varsity team.
As he was biding his time before basketball tryouts, Josh Schatz, a javelin thrower and an upperclassman in Rick's company, urged the young plebe to work out and lift weights with the track team to stay in shape. Ricks fit in immediately and enjoyed the culture of the track program.
Soon, Ricks made the decision to give up his basketball dreams and start a brand new athletic career on the track and field team as a thrower. His father, Larry, supported his decision.
"It basically just came to the point where I was enjoying myself with the environment that track provided," Ricks said. "My dad told me to follow my heart and go with what felt best at the time. He said, 'If you enjoy doing it and you feel like your heart is not with basketball anymore, then stick with track.'"
With the guidance of assistant coach Chris Campbell, Schatz and Mark Van Orden, Ricks had a strong support group teaching him the ropes collegiate throwing.
Ricks first learned the javelin throw, but he also picked up the weight throw and the hammer throw. As a 6-4, 228-pound plebe (now 245), Ricks had the body type of a thrower and his arm strength from years of being a baseball pitcher provided him with a strong physical background. It was on him to pick up the throwing techniques, something he did with ease.
When the outdoor season came along, the rookie was throwing like a seasoned veteran. In his first collegiate meet in 2009, he won the javelin with a throw of 200-5.
"It's almost unheard of for someone to throw over 200 feet in the javelin in their first meet," said Campbell. "At that point, we knew we had a very good athlete."
Ricks went on to place second in the javelin at the outdoor Army-Navy dual meet and made a season-best mark of 201-3 to place second at the Patriot League Outdoor Championships, earning second-team all-league honors.
His javelin marks were good enough to qualify for the IC4A Championships, where he posted a season-best throw of 200-10, placing seventh and earning IC4A All-East honors.
The prior spring at Reynoldsburg High, Ricks was competing on the baseball diamond with no interest whatsoever in track and field. Just a year later, Ricks was garnering all-league and all-region honors as a standout thrower on Navy's track and field squad. Although his success may have come as a surprise to most, Denny Hammond, the track and field coach at Reynoldsburg, always knew Ricks had the tools to be a gifted thrower.
"When he found out I was doing track at the Naval Academy, he gave me some grief," Ricks recalled with laughter. "He always told me to come out for the track team in high school and throw. He thought I would be a pretty good thrower, but I would always tell him I wanted to continue to play baseball."
Ricks emerged as a top thrower at the league level in the weight throw as a sophomore. He made his best throw to date of his young career, a 56-3¾, at the Patriot League Indoor Championships, placing third.
He also took the javelin to another level as a sophomore in the outdoor season. He extended his PR in the event to 210-9 and placed second in the event at the Penn Relays. He also qualified for the NCAA's East Regional, placing 46th at the postseason meet.
However, the success of his sophomore season came at a price. Ricks had a torn labrum in his shoulder and also developed a hairline fracture in his leg. Ricks needed a metal rod inserted in his tibia and was out recovering for months. The whole process of recuperating from multiple injuries was wearisome.
"It was pretty frustrating and challenging to come back," said Ricks. "You see your teammates getting after it day after day and putting the work in and you can't be with them."
Navy held its first indoor meet of his junior year on December 4th, but Ricks wasn't able to compete until January 29th. He won the weight throw the following week at the Army-Navy Indoor Star Meet, but his mark of 55-7 was short of where he had been the previous year (56-3¾). With the Patriot League Championships approaching, Ricks barely had any time to get back into the swing of things.
Ricks competing in the weight throw
"With the weight throw, it takes some meets to kind of establish your technique and your form," Ricks said. "That way when you do get in the big meets, you kind of just let things go and get after it."
'Get after it' is just what Ricks did at the Navy-hosted league championship meet in 2011, obliterating his previous PR with a first-place throw of 60-3¼. Ricks earned all-league first-team honors and scored 10 important team points for Navy, the eventual team champions. It was only his fourth event of the season, but always the competitor, he proved he was the league's best weight thrower.
Ricks capped off his indoor junior season with a 12th place finish in the weight throw at the IC4A Championships. He also had a strong spring in the hammer throw, placing second at the Patriot League Outdoor Championships in the event and finished 20th at the IC4A Outdoor Championships.
Prior to his senior year, Ricks received one of the greatest honors a student-athlete can earn at the Naval Academy when he was voted the 2012 outdoor season team captain by his teammates. The feat is even more impressive when you consider there are nearly 90 athletes on the active track roster.
"It's something I take a lot of ownership with and a lot of pride in," Ricks said about being voted captain. "Especially because it's a group of your peers saying they want you to be their team captain. It says that they have seen me perform and they want me to continue to perform and step up."
Although Ricks may not have the prototypical leadership style of other, more vocal, team captains, he leads in his own way and connects to his teammates.
"Chris is a relatively quiet leader," said Campbell. "He is not real vocal, but his actions speak volumes. He works hard; he's dedicated and he's confident. He is an individual that wants to win and is not satisfied with second place. He is all business and he tries to be the best athlete he can be. And that makes him a role model for others."
On February 4th, 2012, Ricks and his fellow seniors combined to win eight of Navy's nine individual victories and did something they had yet to do as members of the Navy track and field program: beat Army in a Star Meet.
The weight throw is always the first event at indoor track meets and typically finishes before any of the other events even begin. In his usual all-business approach, Ricks went out and handily won the weight throw, his fourth individual win of the young season.
Navy went 1-2 in the event, with sophomore Zack Duncavage placing second, and took the maximum of eight team points. The weight throwers got Navy off to the perfect start as the team was on its way to snapping a three-year long losing streak to their archrivals.
Ricks certainly has impressive credentials on the track, but there is much more to him that defines him as a Midshipman.
The senior mathematics major holds a 3.5 cumulative GPA and earned a perfect 4.0 in the fall of 2011. He has been selected to the Commandant's List four times and the Superintendent's List and the Dean's List two times each.
Ricks throwing the javelin
Ricks has sought additional opportunities to develop himself as a Midshipman and a future naval officer. Through the Naval Academy's International Programs Office, he applied for a spot on a month-long tour of Africa last summer, joining the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJHT-HOA), which works with African nations to strengthen security in the region, help them develop solutions to their problems and improve relations with the United States.
Ricks was one of six Midshipmen, along with six Cadets from West Point, who were chosen to visit a number of countries such as: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zanzibar and Tanzania. He learned about joint operations and got a better understanding of state governments, spent time visiting with ambassadors, going to embassies and even spent three days at a Ugandan military academy.
But what may make the future submarine officer stand out the most is his dedication to community service and charity causes in the local area. Most Midshipmen have pretty full schedules as it is and varsity athletes have even more scheduling demands. But that doesn't stop Ricks from getting involved in nearby urban cities.
Ricks volunteers with Glen Burnie's Helpers for the Homeless, preparing bag lunches for distribution to more than 300 needy and homeless people in Baltimore. He also participates in We Feed Our People, a project that reaches out to homeless people in Washington, D.C. to provide a nutritious meal and warm clothing. He volunteers for the Chesapeake Bay Swim, a March of Dimes sponsored event.
When the academic counselor at Renaissance Academy in Baltimore wanted to provide his students with a visual of an African American who was a positive role model in the community and excels in college in academics and athletics, he reached out to Ricks. Ricks accepted the invitation and spoke at the school's literacy program's kick-off assembly and luncheon.
Ricks has a group of friends at the Academy that have formed a brotherhood based upon community involvement. They push each other and challenge one another to get involved in community service events, speaking at schools and helping at homeless shelters.
"There are definitely a lot of people who put that effort forth to get me where I'm at today," said Ricks of his inspiration to get involved in the community. "There's a lot of people less fortunate then I am. Whether its community service, helping out a homeless shelter, or going to a local school on a Monday off to talk to kids for a few hours and let them know they can be where I am at. Or they can be better than me. You never know the impact that you have, but it doesn't hurt to try."
Ricks has surely made an impact in multiple ways during his time at the Academy.
"He has really developed as an individual," said Campbell. "He has packed a lot into his four years here and the amount of things he has accomplished as a Midshipman, in addition to being an athlete, is impressive. But when you're heart is in the right place, it's hard to go wrong."
Ricks will look to defend his Patriot League title in the weight throw this coming weekend at the indoor league meet at Bucknell.
Once the outdoor season begins in March, Ricks will take over the reins of team captain from indoor captain Dominic Della Pelle, and spend his final semester at the Academy leading his teammates, in his own quiet, confident way.