A Greene County native, now a soldier in the United States Army’s 101st Airborne Division who has served three tours of duty in the Middle East, will be the subject of a new ESPN SEC Network show entitled “The Moment” which will air nationally on Monday, Aug. 19, at 7 p.m.
Army SSG Josh Ricker and his wife, the former Kayla Murphy, are both graduates of West Greene High School. He has served two tours of duty in Afghanistan and one in Iraq since entering the military nine years ago. He is now stationed in Ft. Campbell, Ky., and plans on continuing his military career as he hopes to attend Warrant Officer Candidate School in the near future.
A University of Tennessee fan since he was a youngster, Ricker was apparently the perfect fit for the new series that ESPN’s Laura Rutledge created and produced. A call was sent out to all fans of SEC schools to nominate people who would fit the bill as a “superfan,” and Rutledge asked nominators to send reasons why their candidate should be considered.
“I was born into it (becoming a UT fan),” Ricker said in a telephone interview from Ft. Campbell. “I was raised by my grandparents, and my grandfather was an avid Tennessee fan. I began watching them regularly, and my interest remains today. I follow them everywhere.”
Kayla, Josh’s wife who is a UT graduate, wrote the recommendation letter for her husband, proclaiming him UT’s “superfan.”
“She must have done a heck of a job,” he said with a laugh. “She went in depth about how serious a fan I was, and how I would go to any length to watch them play, even paying ridiculously overpriced internet fees when I was overseas just to see them on my telephone.”
The Rickers’ second son, Jackson, was born while Josh was away in Afghanistan. ESPN has a clip in the promotion video for the show which shows the Ricker family uniting at the airport on his arrival home in February, and he was able to hold his new baby for the first time. The Rickers have an older son, J.D., who will be 2-years-old Aug. 23.
“This idea (of a series about ‘superfans’) came about because I was trying to think of something that could really make a difference to fans,” Laura Rutledge said in an interview with “thebiglead” web site. “I wanted to give them something really special. When I started working through the concept with coordinating producer Baron Miller, we set out to make this a VIP, all-access experience for a fan at their favorite school. Something they couldn’t get anywhere else.”
The University of Tennessee certainly made him and his family feel like VIPs, Ricker said.
“It all happened really quick,” he explained. “I got home (from Afghanistan) Feb. 28, and on Mar. 2 we were in Knoxville at UT filming for the show.”
Ricker was treated as royalty by the UT family.
He was met by Athletic Director and former football coach Philip Fulmer, who took Josh to watch spring football practice. He met current coach Jeremy Pruitt, who introduced Josh to his football team. UT’s Admiral Schofield presented Josh with a flag that was flown over Neyland Stadium, and coach Rick Barnes attached a personal note in the frame with the flag.
“They sort of turned it around on me, because I was anxious to meet and talk to these players, and they actually wanted to meet and talk to me, so it really was a very nice experience,” he said.
Ricker’s name was selected out of literally thousands of nominations that poured in to Laura Rutledge when the idea of the show was announced.
“I’ll never forget when all of them started to roll into the email account we set up,” she told the web site in the interview. “It was incredible. I loved reading through the hundreds of stories and trying to narrow them down was so hard but we are really pleased with the ones we picked.”
Rutledge wanted it to be a “once in a lifetime experience” for the people selected to represent the SEC school they love.
That’s exactly what it was for Josh Ricker.
Both Ricker and his wife were high school athletes at West Greene. Josh played football, baseball and wrestled, and added “I’d have played basketball, too, but I was too little.”
He’s not “little” anymore, standing around 6-foot and weighing in at 180.
“The 101st Airborne will do that do you,” he said with a laugh.
“The Moment” with Laura Rutledge will air Monday at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network. The Tennessee “Superfan,” Josh Ricker, will be the subject of the show’s debut segment.