Ricchetti quarterbacking West Liberty’s defense

Playing quarterback on offense is one thing.

Playing it on defense is being a weak safety.

Marco Ricchetti has been on both sides of the ball, excelling on both.

However, the 6-3, 200-pound junior is spending his fall Saturdays quarterbacking the secondary for West Liberty University’s football team.

“Playing quarter has definitely helped me as a weak safety,” Ricchetti said during a break between classes and practices earlier this week when I visited the picturesque campus. “It helps me understand the game as far as what the other team’s offense is running and what routes they’re running.”

And so far, so good.

For the second time in the 2012 season, the former Martins Ferry standout has been named the West Virginia Conference’s Defensive Player of the Week. He earned the honor by making a dozen tackles, including a half-a-dozen solo stops, intercepting a pass that resulted in a touchdown and falling on Shepherd’s final gasp onside kick as the Hilltoppers stunned the nationally ranked Rams, 17-16.

“It feels great,” he said. “It’s a great honor and I got it by doing some things that I do, but my teammates are just as deserving.”

Before the fans could get settled into their Russek Field seats last week, Ricchetti had them back on their feet in amazement.

Less than three minutes into the contest, he picked off a Shepherd pass at the Rams’ 48. He started to his right but cutback to the left. With nowhere to run, he quickly turned around and headed down the right sidelines where he found a convoy of blockers. Once he got inside the Rams’ 10, it appeared as though he was bottled up, but that’s when he heard a voice.

“I was just zoned into the game. I was trying to make something happen. I was close to getting tackled when I heard (teammate) Rod (White) yell ‘pitch it,'” Ricchetti recalled of the runback. “So, I did.

“It was a pretty awesome play now when I look back at it,” he said with a smile.

A three-year letterman, Ricchetti leads the Hilltoppers defensive unit with 57 tackles, 35 of which are solo stops. That ranks him sixth in the WVC. He also tops the conference in interceptions with four, which he has returned for 75 yards. Five of his tackles have come behind the line of scrimmage, while he has also broken up three passes, defended seven others and recovered a fumble.

“My play doesn’t surprise me because I really worked hard in the off-season and over the summer watching film and just trying to get better,” he admitted. “The D-line has been getting pressure on the quarterbacks and the linebackers are playing their roles. We’re just playing well as a unit. That’s the key.”

In his eyes, the biggest turnaround from last year’s 1-10 season has been dedication.

“The entire team put in a lot of hard work during the summer,” he noted. “We’re dedicated this season and we know how to win games now. We’re starting to understand what our assignments are and we’re playing really well on both sides of the ball.”

Ricchetti also was honored following WLU’s win at Virginia State earlier in the season when he had 11 tackles, four for minus yardage, and an interception in the end zone.

As a sophomore, Ricchetti played in all 11 games, starting 10. He ranked among the WVC leaders with three blocked kicks (punt, field goal, PAT), and second on the Hilltoppers with 71 tackles. As a freshman, he saw action in nine of the 10 games, making one start. He logged 22 tackles, 14 of which were solo.

As a Purple Rider, he was a three-year letterwinner and was a first-team Division IV all-stater, as well as Division IV Eastern District Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. He also passed for more than 1,400 yards as a senior.

North can be reached at knorth@timesleaderonline.com