GREEN BAY — Joe Kerridge was just about to sit down and play some video games when his phone rang last month with the opportunity of a lifetime.
It was the Green Bay Packers calling, offering the former Michigan fullback at shot at possibly joining their 10-player practice squad.
Kerridge, who visited earlier in the year with the Packers, was ecstatic. It was his first real shot to break back into the NFL after being among Washington’s final cuts at the end of camp.
In a rush of excitement, Kerridge fired off a text message to current Packers linebacker Jake Ryan, his gaming buddy and roommate for three years in Ann Arbor.
“I shot him a text – I actually think we were getting on Xbox,” said Kerridge with a smile on Wednesday. “But I mentioned that I had an opportunity to come out and get a spot on the practice squad. He was very excited.”
Four weeks after arriving in Green Bay, Kerridge now finds himself on the Packers’ active roster after receiving a promotion from the practice squad on Monday.
As much studying and preparation has gone into Kerridge making that leap, the 6-foot, 245-pound fullback credits Ryan for acclimating him to Green Bay and ultimately helping him secure this opportunity.
The pair’s friendship started soon after Kerridge arrived at Michigan in 2011. While Ryan is one year older, he redshirted as a freshman in 2010 and was teammates with Kerridge for four years.
A year after meeting, the two rented a house near campus with former Michigan tight end Jordan Paskorz and safety Josh Furman, who was drafted by Denver in the same 2015 NFL Draft in which Green Bay selected Ryan in the fourth round.
The four players formed a bond and close friendship. They studied together, attended school events, played video games, and cleaned – well, at least, some of them cleaned.
“Joe and I took care of the house,” Ryan said. “The other two, on the other hand, we kind of had to clean up after them.”
Ryan and Kerridge went their separate ways after Ryan wrapped up his senior year in 2014 and was drafted by Green Bay. Meanwhile, Kerridge followed in Ryan’s footsteps and was voted a team captain during his senior season.
He played in 48 games with the Wolverines, including 14 starts. As dependable as he was in the backfield – 18 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown – Kerridge made a name for himself on Michigan’s special-teams units.
He was a reliable contributor on the Wolverines’ four-core units throughout his career at Michigan, though he focused more on offense due a minor injury during his senior campaign.
Over their four years together, Ryan saw Kerridge’s ability on offense and special teams grow, especially after Jim Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor in 2014.
“He was a phenomenal special-teams guy,” said Ryan of Kerridge. “He was the lead guy on punt, our fullback on punt. He controlled it really well. I remember him on kickoff return doing a great job. He’s just a smart guy, knows exactly what he’s doing.”
The two former teammates reconnected this spring when Kerridge came to Green Bay on a pre-draft visit, with Ryan later lending a helping hand when he signed onto the practice squad.
When he needed a place to stay, Ryan provided it. If he needed a ride somewhere, all Kerridge had to do was call.
“When I was staying at the hotel, he came and picked me up when I needed to get some food or something like that,” Kerridge said. “He’s a really great friend and he’s helped me with this transition.”
Kerridge knows the work is far from over. The Packers promoted the undrafted rookie to assist on special teams and continue learning from second-year fullback Aaron Ripkowski.
Ripkowski’s tutelage has been invaluable to Kerridge getting up to speed quickly after spending his summer learning an entirely different system in Washington.
While the fullback position might not be as prevalent as it used to be, Kerridge takes solace in the fact the Packers still see a lot of benefits in carrying them on their 53-man roster.
“It’s great to see,” Kerridge said. “‘Rip’ has done a great job with me. He’s taken me under his wing. He’s helped me with everything, studying with the offense and special teams. It’s great to see fullbacks being able to play.”
It’s been a long road for Kerridge to get to Green Bay, but he feels fortunate he can share the opportunity with Ryan, and who knows? If things go well, the two may end up sharing a special-teams rep together at some point.
“In the end, it’s worked out that I’ve ended up in Green Bay and it’s been the best for me,” Kerridge said. “I’m very excited to be here and contribute and help the team out.”