The concept of defensive back Christian Ricard playing football at Stony Brook University was originated at the Pickle Barrel Deli in Worcester, Massachusetts.
"Good food, good prices, good conservation," said Paul Schlickman, who on that November day in 2009 became an unwitting but ultimately unwavering supporter of Ricard's attending Stony Brook, where he evolved from a walk-on to become a top defensive player in the Colonial Athletic Association.
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The 6-1, 205-pound Ricard, who led the team with 91 tackles and made second-team all-CAA last year, is preparing for his senior year with the Seawolves, who will host Bryant on Aug. 28 in the season opener.
There was scant Division I interest in Ricard before Schlickman, a retired educator who taught English and Latin history, got involved. "I had Division III offers," Ricard said, "but I didn't want to put that financial burden of $40,000 tuition on my parents."
Ricard was deep into his senior season without a plan for college when Schlickman and his wife walked into the Pickle Barrel shortly before Thanksgiving. The Schlickmans had become friendly with the wait staff, especially Denise Comeau, the mother of one of Ricard's high school teammates. Comeau told them that Ricard's mother was frustrated by how little interest Christian was getting.
Comeau said Schlickman then told her, "Funny thing. Do you know what my son does for work?"
At that time, Schlickman's son, Paul, was the executive associate athletic director at Stony Brook.
Comeau asked the elder Schlickman to watch Ricard play for David Prouty High School in nearby Spencer. On Thanksgiving Day, Schlickman obliged and became a de facto scout. "The kid was fantastic," said Schlickman, now 80. "He was a tailback but also a linebacker. He played the whole game with unstinting effort . . . By that time, I knew I had to do something. Nobody was recruiting him, even from Joe Bag of Doughnuts University. I said I'm going to speak to my son."
The younger Schlickman, now the AD at Central Connecticut, said: "My dad brought [Ricard] to my attention. Then I made the initial connection with our staff. I left it up to them in terms of where it went from there."
Ricard's mother, Judith, said: "I wanted my son to be able to say to himself, 'I went to a Division I school, I tried.' I wanted him to have that chance."
Ricard redshirted his first year but impressed early in 2011. "The kid didn't say a word and showed up and worked," coach Chuck Priore said. "He showed us something on special teams."
Ricard progressed each year and now receives a full scholarship. Did he almost slip through the cracks? "Part of the problems of the recruiting process is that we pay too much attention to three-star, four-star, two-star" designations, Priore said. "Some high school programs don't prepare their kids as well as they should."
Ricard said: "Once I got , it was to prove I deserved it and that it wasn't just a fluke."
"I've talked to kids about it and what I went through. You can relate with that person and understand what they're going through."
The elder Schlickman has followed Ricard's progress. "I Googled him and he was fourth on the charts, then third, second and then No. 1. God love him, he's done what I thought he could do."
And Comeau, the waitress who gave Schlickman the tip on Ricard, said, "I just happened to know the right person at the right time."