Keiwan Ratliff was named SEC 2003 Defensive player of the year with the University of Florida. The only player in the NCAA Division I-A ranks to catch a touchdown pass and return an interception for a score as well during the 2002 season. He was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe award in the 2003-2004 college football season and was on the last team coached by Steve Spurrier at the University of Florida. He ranks fifth on the school career-record interceptions list with 12. He now is a NFL rookie drafted to the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2004 NFL Draft 49th overall.
When the Cincinnati Bengals looked at what they needed, it was a kick returner with speed. They can look no further then the 49th pick in the 2nd round of the 2004 NFL Draft, Keiwan Ratliff out of the University of Florida. Keiwan was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe award in his 2003 season at the cornerback position. He was also the Florida Gators' main punt and kick returner.
First off, how are you?
"I am doing real good."
Thoughts on being drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals 49th overall in the 2004 NFL Draft?
"That was an unbelievable feeling. Not the fact that I was the 49th pick in the draft, but that it just happened to be in my home state of Ohio."
How is the Cincinnati Bengals mini camp coming along?
"It's going along pretty well. It's a learning experience. It's a learning curve. Coming in and learning everything from scratch is like being a freshman again. It's just a little difficult, but I am coming along pretty well."
What's the hardest thing as an NFL rookie to adapt to from going from a college player to a NFL player?
"Just getting out there and playing with confidence. Just knowing that you belong because you get out there and are facing guys that are NFL All Pro's at their position. Some of the guys you watched in college as well are in the pros. Just knowing that you belong, and going out there having the confidence and courage to go out there and play on that same level as them."
What are your expectations as a rookie in the NFL this year?
"Just to get my feet wet and get on the field. Whether it is offense, defense, or special teams I am just trying to help this team out to get to that next level, which is the playoffs."
What are your thoughts on Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis from what you know thus far?
"Coach Lewis is a great coach. He tells it like it is. He's not going to sugarcoat anything, but at the same time he is going to be friendly with you. He isn't going to come out and try and embarrass you or curse at you. He just tells you what you need to be doing better or you are doing this great. He gives encouragement along with his criticism."
Think you will have the opportunity to be a starting kick returner for the Cincinnati Bengals your first year?
"I think I do. As long as I go out on special teams and catch the ball, and hit the right scenes and holes like the coaches ask me to do, I think I could get out there and return kickoffs and play a lot of special teams this year."
You must be optimistic because the Cincinnati Bengals seem to be on the ups after last years 8-8 season and not the downs, am I right?
"Exactly. Last year we were 8-8 and one game out of the playoffs. This year were trying to take that better record and get into the playoffs."
What was it like being a finalist for the Jim Thorpe award the 2003-2004 college football season?
"That was one of those things that you have to be proud of in the long run. Later on in my career when I look back and think about it that it will affect me a lot more than it does now. That is something they can never take away from your career. Basically rewarding you for the hard work you did in your final season."
Did you ever expect to be on the last team Steve Spurrier coached at the University of Florida in 2001?
"No. I really didn't. I thought coach Spurrier would have been there to this day."
What did you learn from current University of Florida head coach Ron Zook?
"Coach Ron Zook really showed me the NFL tempo. He showed us the tempo and speed of the game. I think a lot of us didn't understand why he would have practices moving so fast and so quickly, but now that I get on this level and see how practices go, it's how we practiced at the University of Florida."
Do you feel Ron Zook has a lot of expectations to live up to?
"I think he does just because of how the program was going before he got there. I think Coach Zook is a great coach and he's going to get the program right to where it used to be. They will be in the running for some championships in the years to come."
Finally, as we move into the preseason, mini camp and training camp, what do you look forward to accomplishing before the regular season?
"I just look forward to making plays to help this team become better by any means, whether that is making a big tackle on special teams or making a key interception in a key game. Just trying to help this team improve and become a playoff caliber team."
Chris Yandek has spent four years in the world of sports entertainment. Over the last year he has spent his time interviewing in the college and NFL football outlets. He has interviewed NFL legends including Emmitt Smith to 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffuel to University of Florida head coach Rob Zook.