Sophomore Cincinnati running back Ralph David Abernathy IV already has a name he can be proud of – now he’s looking to make one for himself in the BIG EAST.
Abernathy is the grandson of the Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, a prominent civil rights leader who was a close associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. Abernathy’s father, Ralph Abernathy III was a promising athlete in the 1960’s and 70’s who used sports as an escape from the tumultuous times he grew up in.
The youngest Abernathy does not shrink from the responsibilities (and pressures) of his bloodlines – he embraces them.
“He has a level of consistency at his age that I’ve never seen before,” Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones told ESPN.com. “He understands what his name is all about. He’s always very conscientious about what he’s representing with his actions on and off the field, and that speaks to his character.
Ralph David Abernathy was at the forefront of the American civil rights movement. He helped organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to move to the back of a bus in 1955. His house was fire-bombed in 1957. He helped secure passage of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Voting Rights Bill of 1965.
And he shared a hotel room with King at Memphis’ Lorraine Hotel the day he was assassinated in 1968.
That story made it all the more special when Abernathy IV broke a 90-yard, game-winning kickoff return in last year’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl – just five miles from where King was gunned down.
Now as a sophomore, Abernathy IV is getting a bigger role in the Bearcats’ offense. Cincinnati lost speedy running back Isaiah Pead, last year’s BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year, to the NFL but Jones says that Abernathy IV was the fastest player on the team.
He was able to show off some of that speed in the Bearcats’ first conference game of this season, a 34-10 win over Pittsburgh. Abernathy carried five times for 20 yards and caught four passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns. He also returned a kickoff.
“We had a kind of game plan for him and a mindset for how many touches we wanted him to get,” Jones told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “We wanted to get the ball to him in different situations. He took advantage of his touches and he’ll continue to get more as the season progresses.”
His big-play speed will be an asset as he will continue to be involved whether running, catching and returning kicks. With two more years of eligibility, Abernathy will have plenty of time to expand his game and put himself in position to fulfill his ultimate goal – a spot in the NFL.
Abernathy believes that is how he will be able to continue his family’s special legacy playing football.
“When you go into a normal neighborhood, kids don’t look at doctors and lawyers and say ‘I want to be like them.’” Abernathy IV told ESPN.com. “They look at athletes. I can be someone they identify with.”
Abernathy and the Bearcats will take on Virginia Tech in a non-conference matchup at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland (3:30pm, ESPNU).