"Do You Miss It?" Part 1
That is the question I am immediately asked when I tell people I am now retired from the NFL. And without hesitation I reply "NO."
I began playing football in 1992 at the age of seven. I was the biggest and fastest kid on the team but I wore #51 and played offensive guard. In addition, we went winless for the entire season!
Naturally all of the coaches son's were playing the best positions, quarterback, running back, etc. As the new kid on the block I immediately got threw on the offensive line.
I was a big seven year old but I wasn't that damn big for them to automatically throw me on the offensive line. (On gameday's I had to run laps wearing a garbage bag to make weigh in, so on second thought maybe I was that damn big. Not chubby, but big. Ha!!!)
In addition to being big I was fast. Every post practice sprint while crossing the line I'd look to my left and look to my right and be completely by myself.
But the thought never crossed my coaches mind (whose name I chose not to remember) to maybe give the fastest kid a chance to run the ball. Maybe, just maybe then we may have scored some more points.
So needless to say I wasn't too enthused about suiting up the following season and getting back into a 3 point stance.
When signups came around for the '93 season I told my dad I did not want to play. He obliged but thought that I would cave in and ask him to sign me up because all my friends were playing. But I didn't.
After a few games into the season my dad realized that I was serious about my decision. He then "made me an offer I could not refuse." The only way I was going back on that field was if I was scoring touchdowns. No more down blocks or pass protection.
My favorite players were Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith and I wanted to do what they did. Barry had the moves and Emmitt had strength. Plus they were my favorite teams to use on Madden '92 (Sega Genesis of course.)
My father said that I could play running back on the team if I reversed my decision not to play. So it probably took me all of 30 seconds to agree.
At the time I didn't know my dad's best friend (Mr. Wes) was the new head coach for the Pop Warner team so I am assuming he didn't have to do too much arm twisting for Mr. Wes to get me the ball. He was a jolly guy who always had the best cars and was about having fun. So naturally Mr. Wes was my kind of guy.
This fun loving style translated into his coaching. Honestly the man was an innovator, we were running the spread offense 23 years ago, long before it become the signature offense of college football.
During the '93 season, the team had almost completely turned over and we were armed with a dynamic group of playmakers. The most efficient way to get them the ball was to line up in the shotgun formation and snap it directly to them and let them run. Thus the birth of the spread offense, "Direct Snap Right to Ryan"
Now the biggest and second fastest kid (my friend Andrew became faster than me and never relinquished that distinction) was scoring plenty of touchdowns and winning tons of games and championships.
I still had to run before the game (sometimes) and even played half of a season on the team in the next age division, sometimes playing two games in one day. But it was all fun back then and I was literally and figuratively "heads & shoulders" above the kids I was playing with.
Deciding to get back out there was absolutely the best decision I've ever made.
I often marvel at the fact that I can trace my entire career back to that single decision and influence from my dad to get back out on the playing field. If that had not happened, who knows how things would have played out or where I would be (for better or for worse).
That's the way my mind works. Everything is connected. All of my past decisions prior to today have led me to this very point in time. Some may seem more important than others but I believe if any of those decisions were reversed, no matter how small, my life trajectory would be completely different.
I am thankful for all my life experiences, good and bad.
Morpheus told Neo in the Matrix "Everything happens the way it should." I am a firm believer in that.
So that in a nutshell is pretty much how my football career began.
Unfortunately, my Pop Warner career came to an abrupt end when in the summer of 1998 I had to have knee surgery. Yep, at 13 years old I had knee surgery. The procedure was called an OCD, osteochondritis dissecans, pretty much low cartilage my right knee.
I had to sit out the entire season to recover. I was in 8th grade and started the school year weighing 155 pounds. At the end of the school year I was 5'10 180 pounds (told you I was big kid).
My youth football experience laid the foundation and built up intangibles that I would rely upon for my entire football career.
Football and I didn't along at first but when we "clicked" it was an amazing feeling.
Up next was high school and college. Both uniquely different but also very similar experiences in how they took my relationship with football to deeper levels.....