Ridley brothers reunite on opposite sidelines at the CFP title game

Alabama vs. Georgia will be a titanic clash. (0:37)

The perennial powerhouse Crimson Tide will duel with the up-and-coming Bulldogs as Atlanta becomes the center of the college football universe. (0:37)

ATLANTA -- Calvin Ridley remembers the first time his younger brother, Cavin, challenged him to a footrace. Calvin was probably around 8 or 9 years old, and one of their uncles boasted that Cavin, who is about 16 months younger, was faster than his older brother.

Their uncle was right: Little Brother beat Big Brother in a 20-yard race, and Big Brother wasn't particularly happy about it.

"He got me because everybody was rooting against me," Calvin said. "I feel like they helped him win because they gave him confidence. Everybody just thought he could beat me in a race."

On Monday night, the Ridley brothers will settle their score on a much bigger stage in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Calvin Ridley is a junior receiver for Alabama and is playing in his third consecutive CFP National Championship. Cavin, who now goes by his middle name, Riley, is a sophomore receiver for Georgia, which is trying to win its first national title since 1980.

"Somebody told me it's not a championship game without a Ridley in it," Riley said. "Now you have two here. For me to be here and experience what he's experienced is beautiful."

Calvin and Riley said they haven't talked or texted each other this week. But they often dreamed about playing each other in college or the NFL when they were growing up in South Florida, just north of Fort Lauderdale. They've never faced each other in an organized football game before. From the first time they played on a team -- when Calvin was 11 years old and Riley was 9 and they were playing in a 90-pound league -- they were always teammates.

They played together at Monarch High School in Coconut Creek, Florida, and on the Florida Fire 7-on-7 team during the summers.

"Playing in the NFL and going to college has always been a dream for us," Riley said. "We never let anything block the sight of our dreams. My brother always told me, 'We can't be sorry. We've got to be good. We have to take care of our family.' To see it happen is crazy."

Keeping sight of their dream wasn't always easy. Their biological father, Colin Ridley, was deported to Guyana when Calvin was 7, and they haven't seen him since. Their mother, Kassna Daniels, had problems of her own. The brothers spent a couple of years in foster care at SOS Children's Villages in Coconut Creek, which is operated by an Austrian-based international group that has foster homes in 135 countries, according to its website.

"It's hard," Calvin said. "Football was our way out."

Calvin and Riley lived at SOS Villages with their cousin Shawn Burgess-Becker, who grew up playing football with them. Tom Becker and his wife, Melanie, adopted Burgess-Becker and his two brothers in 2011. Melanie had taught the Ridley brothers and Burgess-Becker at Lion's Creek Middle School in Coconut Creek.

"We were at a 7-on-7 tournament, and that's where I met the Ridley brothers," Tom Becker said. "We had them stay a week with us, and about a year later, Calvin came and lived with us for about a year. Riley would come stay every other weekend."

Burgess-Becker graduated from Monarch High with Calvin and also signed with Alabama in 2015. He transferred to UCF in June 2016 and played linebacker for the undefeated Knights this past season. Burgess-Becker's brother, Pasqual, played football at Division II West Florida in Pensacola.

"They're fighters, and they're resilient," said Georgia receivers coach James Coley, a native of Miami. "The kids that make this transition and go to college and get their degrees, they're fighters. It's not just them. It's mom and a coach at home, who were fighting along with them."

By the time the Ridley brothers reached Monarch High, their mother had her life back on track. They also have two younger brothers.

"It takes a village," said Calvin Davis, who coached the Ridley brothers at Monarch High. "A lot of people had a hand in making sure that they stayed on the right path and had an opportunity to play on this stage on Monday. Their mother was very much a part of their lives and was part of the village."

Calvin also played an important role in keeping Riley on track. Because Calvin turned 19 during his senior season at Monarch High, he was ineligible to play a full season under Florida High School Athletic Association rules. He was still a part of the team by serving as a student coach.

"He kept Riley focused and ready and talked to him about doing the right things," Davis said. "Calvin is the leader of that family. He's the man of the house. They look up to him for guidance."

When Calvin left home to enroll at Alabama in the summer of 2015, he had some parting words for Riley.

"He told me he was going to be the best," Riley said. "When my brother says certain things, you don't take it for granted, because he really means it. That's the kind of person Calvin is. That's why I call him a role model, because Calvin is not a follower. He makes sure his younger brothers are not followers, too. If they're going to follow anyone, it's him."

In three seasons with the Crimson Tide, Calvin has been one of the most productive receivers in school history, despite playing in a run-heavy offense. His 220 career catches are second best in Alabama history; he needs eight to tie former Tide star Amari Cooper for No. 1. His 18 career touchdown catches are second most in Tide history, and his 2,749 career receiving yards rank third.

Monday night's game probably will be Calvin's final college contest. He is considered the No. 1 receiver available for April's NFL draft; ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has the Chicago Bears selecting him with the No. 8 pick in his latest mock draft.

"When we were kids, we'd sit there talking about playing in the NFL and going to college," Calvin said. "It's real now. We just stayed to it. I never gave up, even when times were hard. I still went to the field and practiced. If I didn't have a ride, I jumped on a bus. I stayed dedicated to what I wanted to do, and I'm almost there."

The Crimson Tide also recruited Riley, but he was one of the first players to sign with Georgia when former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was hired as the new Bulldogs coach in December 2015. At the time, Calvin endorsed his younger brother's decision.

"I told him Kirby Smart was going to Georgia and he needed to check them out," Calvin said. "I just told him to check them out. Everybody makes it out to be like I took him to school."

In two seasons at Georgia, Riley has 20 catches for 374 yards with four touchdowns in 24 games. The highlight so far was his 47-yard touchdown catch with 10 seconds remaining in a 34-31 loss to Tennessee last season (the Volunteers threw a 43-yard Hail Mary for a touchdown on the final play).

"I'm really proud of us both making it to college," Calvin said. "By doing that, we've both made it."

On Monday night, the Ridley brothers will find themselves on opposite sidelines for the first time in their careers. Their mother will be sitting in the stands at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, along with their younger brothers and other family members.

"Mom doesn't know who she wants to root for," Riley said. "She's a little nervous because both of her boys are going to be on the field. She's rooting for Calvin and Cavin."

Calvin isn't so sure she'll be so objective.

"I know for a fact my family is pulling for him," Calvin said. "My mom doesn't have favorites, but if she did, he would be her favorite. She didn't say, 'I hope y'all win.' My mom wants Georgia to win -- and my two brothers."

Regardless of which team wins, Riley said he plans to find his brother on the field after the game for a long overdue reunion.

"Get your cameras ready," Riley said. "It's been a while since I've seen him."