ATLANTA –– Kassna Daniels still remembers the tufts of grass that once littered what is now a cement patio area outside her Fort Lauderdale, Florida, home.
It was on that patch of dirt and grass in front of their apartment that her two oldest sons — Alabama junior receiver Calvin Ridley and Georgia sophomore receiver Riley Ridley — regularly gathered a handful of neighborhood kids to play football from sunup to sundown.
“The patio is cemented in (now) because Calvin done tore it up,” Daniels explained proudly. “They went out there and played football all day and all night until it was time to come in and eat. They played all night and all day until they tore the grass up and the property manager had to put cement on the ground because they tore the grass completely up out of the ground.”
It was in those moments that Daniels remembers envisioning a future on the football field for her boys, especially her two oldest.
Monday night the field is Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, where Calvin and fourth-ranked Alabama (12-1) will take on little brother Riley and No. 3 Georgia (13-1) in a battle for the College Football Playoff national championship trophy.
“I always knew they had all this energy and activity inside them and a goal for them to be what they want to be, and they finally made it to what they want to be,” Daniels said by phone from Fort Lauderdale. “Football is their first priority in their life. It’s a blessing.”
While meeting on the biggest stage in college football wasn’t necessarily one of their dreams, Riley vividly remembers Calvin telling him the importance of both succeeding in football in an effort to support their mom.
“‘We can’t be sorry. We’ve got to be good. We’ve got to provide for our family,'” Riley recalled Calvin telling him when they were 90-pound Pop Warner teammates.
“To see these things happening, it’s crazy,” Riley said Saturday during media day for both teams.
For Alabama freshman receiver Jerry Jeudy, who also participated in the Ridleys’ patio games, the opportunity to reunite on the field — even if Riley is playing for the opposition — is especially rewarding.
“It’s amazing (to be) playing against each other for the national championship. It’s something to talk about later into the future,” said Jeudy. “(Especially) when we used to play on the streets, we’d have a small game, little 3-on-3 games in the circle.”
Daniels said she first envisioned her sons squaring off in the playoff as the regular season neared its end, especially once the four-team playoff field was announced.
“I kept telling everybody that Alabama and Georgia are going to play each other,” she said. “And they kept saying, ‘No they’re not.’ And I said, ‘Yes they are, they’re going to play each other in the playoff.’ And look what happened. They’re at the championship.”
— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) January 7, 2018
Daniels, 50, raised four sons all within 1-2 years of one another as a single mother after the boys’ father was deported in the early 2000s. The four boys — Calvin, 23; Cavin, who goes by his nickname Riley, 21; Claymont, 20; and Clayton, 18 — each have the same initials: C-O-R, which has prompted Daniels to call them her “C-O-R boys.”
As her two oldest prepare for the biggest moment in their careers, their mother is flooded by memories and emotions
“It makes me very proud of both of them. It makes me excited for both of them, and I’m just a proud mom,” Daniels said. “I’m very excited. I got so excited that I caught the flu over the weekend.”
Daniels said she and her youngest two boys will be in the stands Monday, with the younger Ridley brothers sitting in the Georgia family section while she and her new husband sit among the Alabama player families. There she’ll be sporting a self-made split shirt with both Alabama and Georgia colors and “The Ridley Mom” on the back.
“My mom loves to support her kids. She’d give her backbone for us,” Riley said. “Right now, where we’re at right now, she’s just overwhelmed.”
Also raising the ante for the Ridleys is the perception that the title game will be Calvin’s last in an Alabama uniform. He is a near-certain first-round pick in April’s NFL draft.
While Calvin has yet to announce his decision, his mother has little doubt, which only adds to her heightened emotions.
“I’m so excited that both of my boys are playing each other, and it’s Calvin’s last game. It’s amazing,” Daniels said.
Given the stakes, Calvin and Riley haven’t spoken or texted each other since before their semifinal games last week.
— UGA Football Live (@UGAfootballLive) January 7, 2018
It’s a weird feeling for both given how frequently the two speak.
“We’re going to wait until after the game to talk,” Riley said.
Calvin, who ranks among Alabama’s all-time greats at his position, also won’t take it easy on his little brother.
“I don’t want to say we’re enemies on the field, but if I had to crack (block) him, I’d do it,” Calvin said with a smile. “It’s going to be all right.”
Once that final whistle has blown, the reunion hug — regardless of the outcome — will likely be special.
“Have your cameras ready for it,” Riley said. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen him.”
This article is written by Alex Byington from The Decatur Daily, Ala. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.