Since his dazzling days as McCallie's quarterback, Robert Riddle has redshirted the 2017 season at Mercer University, started three games in 2018 and made seven starts this past season.
It's a college career that's just getting started.
The 6-foot-3, 207-pounder from Lookout Mountain recently received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, which means he still has three seasons remaining with the Bears. A collarbone injury derailed Riddle's 2018 season after just four games, while leg and ankle injuries this past October limited his initial redshirt sophomore year to seven contests.
Riddle will be a redshirt sophomore again in terms of football eligibility during the 2020 season.
"I never expected to play college football for six years," Riddle said. "I knew I would be here five years, because I needed to redshirt in order to physically develop and mentally develop, but six years is something I never thought of."
Having Riddle around a little longer certainly can't hurt the Bears in their quest to become an upper-tier Southern Conference football program. Mercer has yet to produce a winning SoCon record since joining the league in 2014, but the Bears are 5-5 overall in games Riddle has started the past two seasons and 4-9 in contests in which he hasn't.
Even though he played most of last season, Riddle entertained thoughts of a sixth year in November and quickly went to work.
"I talked to my family and coaches about it a lot, and they said that it was something I might as well try to get," he said. "I love playing football. Some people only get four years, and luckily I'll get six. My family and coaches encouraged me, and the NCAA did a pretty good job of getting back to our support staff and our eligibility guys pretty quickly.
"I started the process soon after the season was over, and it was only a few weeks before they responded and let us know that my sixth year was granted."
Riddle, who has completed 187 of 312 passes (59.9%) for 2,304 yards with 21 touchdowns and 14 interceptions so far at Mercer, underwent ankle surgery after last season was cut short and could not walk for 10 weeks. He hopes to be cleared in about a month, as his rehabilitation responsibilities have moved from Macon back home due to Mercer calling off classes in the middle of this month due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bears were able to complete three of 15 spring practice sessions.
"Luckily, the main thing I can do right now for my ankle is to just run around and jump," Riddle said. "I don't really need any high-tech training equipment. I just need some space to run and jump around. Everything I need to do I can pretty much do at home or in my driveway."
Riddle is handling his coursework online as he continues on a path of double majoring in marketing and management. By receiving a sixth year, he hopes to not only leave Mercer as a successful quarterback but with an MBA as well.
While temporarily residing at home again, Riddle is savoring the opportunities to challenge his father, McCallie golf coach Rob Riddle, on the fairways and greens. He also is dealing with younger sibling William, a McCallie sophomore who was the backup quarterback to DeAngelo Hardy this past season and likes to flash his 2019 state championship ring to an older brother who was not able to attain one during his days on Missionary Ridge.
Once football resumes, whenever that may be, Riddle hopes to start and finish a season as the starting quarterback for the first time since guiding Ralph Potter's Blue Tornado.
"This past year, in the seven games I played, I never thought about my collarbone injury from the year before," Riddle said. "I think my injuries have been freak accidents, honestly, and I either had to get hit a certain way or fall a certain way. I don't think about getting hurt again, but I think I will be smarter when running the ball.
"Someone told me a few days ago that running backs get paid to run the ball, while quarterbacks get paid to give the ball to the playmakers. I'll definitely try to adhere to that a little more now."