Giovanni Ricci will take the field wearing #45

for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers Sunday.

By Chuck Gibson

LOVELAND, OH (September 10, 2021) – It is a moment former Loveland Tiger Wide Receiver Giovanni Ricci has dreamed of since he was in grade school. This Sunday, September 12, 2021, Ricci will take the field at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina as a player with the home team Carolina Panthers making his dream a reality.

Giovanni Ricci, NFL Fullback, Carolina Panthers (Courtesy Carolina Panthers)

This is actually year two for Ricci after spending all of the 2020 NFL Season as a practice squad player for the Panthers. He never took the field on a Sunday in the Panther uniform, but he worked hard on the “p-squad” learned the game, and earned a spot on the 53-man Carolina Panther roster for 2021. The team has defined a role for him as he prepares to step onto the field in a Panther uniform this Sunday for the opening regular season game of the 2021 NFL Season.

“I spent last year on the practice squad here and was fortunate enough to be brought back again,” said Ricci. “In training camp I knew a big part of my ability to earn a spot would be to play special teams. Going into this game, just how practice has gone this week, I’ll be expected to play the four core special teams; kick-off, kick-off return, punt and punt return.” 

Through that training camp and pre-season work, the Panthers gave Giovanni an opportunity to play fullback – a new position for him. He saw some time there in the preseason versus the Ravens and then extended time against the Steelers in preseason game action.

“They saw enough of what I did and thought it was good,” Ricci said. “I’ll have some opportunity to play some fullback in the regular season and made the roster as a fullback. I’m really excited for the opportunity.”  

Giovanni Ricci went from Loveland High School football to collegiate football at Western Michigan (Provided)

After practice Friday, less than 48 hours from his first professional football NFL Regular Season game, Giovanni took time out to talk with me about his journey to the NFL. Here is his story:

Ricci’s journey to the NFL includes youth football and high school football in Loveland. He was a wide receiver with the Loveland Tiger Football Ohio High School Football State Championship team. He took the next step on his dream journey when he was given the opportunity to play NCAA Division I college football at Western Michigan University. A move to Tight End during his collegiate football career helped the NFL dream begin to look more like a reality to him. From college tight end to 2021 NFL Carolina Panther fullback and special teams player as the season opens this Sunday for Giovanni Ricci in Charlotte, North Carolina.

From the beginning, the athletic influence in his life was his father, Tony Ricci, who came to the United States from Italy where he played soccer. Giovanni says his dad was a very good soccer player. Of course, Giovanni started out playing soccer too, but one Sunday afternoon he and his dad were watching the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles play on television. He was just eight years old. 

“It was Eagles versus Cowboys,” said Ricci. “I was watching and said Dad; I want to play this game. He said alright, let’s go. So, I started playing it when I was in grade school.”

Both Giovanni and Tony Ricci tell the same story about what developed Sunday afternoons at home watching NFL games together. I spoke to Tony Ricci about his son making the Carolina Panthers 53 man NFL roster. Tony says the story to tell is when Giovanni was real young and they first moved to Loveland and he started playing football. They were watching the games in a basement with two rooms divided by an archway

“Every commercial Giovanni would run around through one arch and come out through the other and I would throw the ball blind to him,” said Tony. “He would catch it. We did that religiously for three or four years. It’s a great memory for me.”

It is the memory Tony shared when asked for a moment that stands out. It is the same standout moment/memory Giovanni shared when I asked him the same question. He was unaware Tony already told me the same story.

“I remember, every commercial break I’d be in the basement running around this pillar we had in the basement with him throwing the ball to me,” Giovanni recalled. “I’d just be watching these NFL teams every weekend with my dad and saying I want to play in the NFL someday. It goes way back to when I first saw the game. I immediately fell in love with it and thought it was an awesome, awesome game to play. It’s been the dream since then.”

That dream became a reality when, less than two weeks ago, Giovanni sat around his hotel room hoping his phone would not start buzzing. He already learned the lesson of: no news is good news when waiting to see if you’ve made the cut.

“After that moment when they announced the 53, it was just an unbelievable honor to be where I am,” Giovanni said. “I’m just super thankful and happy. My dad is extremely excited and I have a great support system at home.”

Giovanni converted from Wide Receiver to Tight End at Western Michigan (Provided)

Tony still remembers one year ago when his son received the news he made the practice squad.

“Just like this year, they had to make a decision,” Tony recalled. “I decided to drive down and just be with him. Whatever the news, I didn’t want him to be alone. That day, when they were making the final cuts, they called him in. His agent was talking to him – telling him I think you’re going to be on the practice squad. He goes in for the meeting, 45 minutes go by, nothing, an hour goes by, nothing. I said okay he’s on the practice squad, they’re working out the terms. It was nerve-wracking, but the result was he was happy as he could possibly be.”  

Yes it was the practice squad a year ago. Giovanni admits it was hard work and tough not getting on the field on Sunday.

“It was a great opportunity to grow as a player,” said Giovanni. “In so many aspects, it was a year of being able to understand the offense, understanding what the NFL game is like. Obviously it would have been amazing to get on the field and play in a game. It was working at it every day to improve my game to where I was hopeful to put myself in a spot to make the 53.”

He also recognizes the opportunity he had just getting to know the guys on the roster. Getting to know each and every one of them, make friendships and build relationships. Everyone on the team welcomed him from day one. The locker room atmosphere and culture they have going on has been great. Not to mention on game day along with so many great teammates, he’ll have the opportunity to block for Christian McCaffrey, arguably one of the best running backs in the league.

“Definitely the premier back of the NFL (Christian McCaffrey) having the opportunity to block for him is an honor,” Giovanni said.” I’ll try to spring him for a couple runs this season. . . I know he’ll do that all on his own anyway. Being around him and learning the position; how he sees it and how he wants it. It has been awesome.”

Giovanni says the biggest challenge(s) on his football journey have come at each transition. First from level to level grade school to high school, to college and now to the NFL, but also from wide receiver, to tight end, to special teams and fullback lining up in the backfield for and NFL team. Those challenges pushed him to get better and do things even he didn’t know he was capable of doing. He says too many great moments to single out one, but points to meeting the people, the teammates as his favorite part of the journey.

“You get to meet people that under any other circumstance you would never ever have met,” Giovanni said. “From all over the country, from different backgrounds, different places; just the people you meet.”

Giovanni’s new team: The Carolinal Panthers in action on the field. (Courtesy Carolina Panthers)

Then there is that on the field moment:

“I’d say the biggest moment for me is our first preseason game this year in Indianapolis running out on the field for the first time,” he said, “in an NFL jersey suited up to play. It was just surreal. It’s been the dream since I was a little kid. It’s just a very surreal moment. I definitely had to take in that moment and then go play some football.”

Giovanni has been playing football since he was a kid watching the NFL on television in the basement with his dad. Tony speaks of all those moments over the years watching his son do the work and earn opportunities along the way. He gives the credit to Debra Ricci, Giovanni’s mom for being there every day guiding him as dad was working into the night. Some credit goes to his sister and his brother-in-law for helping Giovanni make the adjustment to being a professional athlete. His sister just happens to be married to Adam Engel (LHS grad) who is currently playing professional baseball with the Chicago White Sox. It all leads up to this Sunday, September 12, 2021 when Giovanni Ricci will pull on his #45 Carolina Panther jersey and run onto the field in Charlotte, North Carolina as an NFL Player.  

“It’s definitely an awesome opportunity this year,” Giovanni said. “The joy of making the team. . . it takes a lot of hard work and obviously not everybody gets that opportunity. I’m just very grateful and blessed to be where I am. There’s still tons of work needs to be done – a whole season ahead of us. I’m just taking that day-by-day and enjoying it in the moment.”

The NFL Carolina Panthers host the N.Y. Jets at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. Game time is 1 p.m. EDT on CBS.

CLICK HERE to visit the Carolina Panthers team page online.