TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Despite growing up on opposite ends of Florida’s Turnpike, Florida State safety Derwin James and Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley are no strangers to competing against one another.
James is from Haines City, near Orlando; Ridley is from Coconut Creek, which is a Fort Lauderdale suburb. Their high school teams never played, but James and Ridley are well-acquainted with each other from camps and 7-on-7 competitions.
“I’ve been going up against Ridley and a lot of those guys a long time,” James said at Florida State’s recent Media Day. “They are great at what they do and I am great at what I do, so it is going to be fun.”
“It” is the September 2 Alabama-Florida State matchup in Atlanta, one of the most eagerly anticipated season-openers in recent memory and the best non-conference game of the 2017 season.
The contest also will serve as a comeback game for James, who missed all but the first two games of the 2016 season after suffering a knee injury. The game is the big deal, of course, but James also is looking forward to going up against Ridley.
“Every time we go against one another, we try and get the best of one another,” James said. “He’s a dog, and I think I am a dog, too, so when we go against each other, it is always great.”
James will team with cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, who tied for the national lead with eight interceptions last season, to form perhaps the nation’s best cornerback-safety tandem. McFadden also is from the Fort Lauderdale suburbs. And to take the “Fort Lauderdale connection” a step further, the receiver starting opposite Ridley may be true freshman Jerry Jeudy, who also is from that area.
“I know they (James and McFadden) are two high-end players,” Ridley said at SEC Media Days last month. “I have a lot of respect for both of them. I am excited to compete against those two and go out there with my group and be ready to play hard.”
The Ridley-James matchup will be one of a handful of top-level one-on-one contests in the game. It’s certainly one that NFL scouts will be watching; both players are considered all but certain to turn pro, and each is a likely first-rounder.
(You can follow Noah Mindel on Twitter @noahmindel)
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