The playoffs loom large Batavia's BigUn sees the the Big
House in his future
Author(s): Joe Bush
Date: October 27, 2000
The BigUn wants to play in the Big House, and considering how the BigUn gets after what he wants, expect to see him in Michigan's maize-and-blue in 2003. Batavia sophomore defensive lineman James Ryan is the BigUn, so named by former Bulldog and current Western Michigan player Chris Browning when Ryan prowled the Batavia sidelines as a waterboy in 1997.
Ryan was a 6-foot, 255-pound seventh-grader who was implementing the first phase of his plan to conquer the universe.
Or at least to become the first freshman to play on the Batavia varsity.
It was a goal of his to crack the varsity as a ninth-grader, and he did. It's a goal of his to earn a full scholarship to play football at a Division I university, and unless there is injury or grade-slacking, he will.
Most likely he will have his choice of suitors come this time next year, and if that's the case, he's partial to playing in front of more than 100,000 people in Ann Arbor.
This would seem premature for most sophomores. At 6-5, 300, Ryan is not most sophomores, nor is he that many juniors or seniors.
His is a unique case of a boy with a body that makes college coaches act silly. There are plenty of kids with this size, but not at this age, and therein lies the fascination.
Since last season, Ryan and his coaches have been able to draw a blueprint to win a Division I scholarship.
"I would say from our standpoint - and this is a hard thing for us to say as coaches - he's probably the first guy that I've seen that I've felt was a potential D-I player as a freshman," Bulldogs defensive coordinator Dennis Piron says.
"That we could say confidently, 'Yeah, he's a D-I football player.' "
Ryan was born with 75 percent of what he needs. His mother, Robin, is 5-7, and his paternal grandpa is 6-2.
The BigUn is also The CoordinatedUn. Size is sometimes negated by klutz, but Ryan is an athlete; he was last year's Suburban Prairie Red frosh-soph heavyweight wrestling champ and the league's top frosh-soph discus slinger.
His football skills are coming. Fast.
"He's developed from, as a freshman, a very raw, nice big kid, into a really good defensive lineman," Piron says.
"Now he makes plays, he reads things. You'll see a (guard) pull, you'll see him get on the hip. You see a guy block down, he'll step up, shove 'em and rip through. You see a guy try to base, and get his head outside, James will stand him up and get in the hole and make a play.
"Stuff you wanna see your defensive linemen doing."
Ryan has attacked his schoolwork with visions of screaming autumn Saturdays dancing in his head.
"They don't come too easy," the honor-roll student says of his grades. "Every once in a while I struggle. It's all coming together this year."
Finally, Ryan is industrious and ambitious.
He sought out the waterboy job, went to Northwestern's football camp the summer after his eighth-grade year and last summer, and he has committed to the weight room.
He will focus on foot speed and quickness and agility as well as continue to lift and go to camps.
Next summer Ryan hopes to hit the camps at the universities of Illinois and Michigan, and those trips will not be the adventures of an eighth-grader looking to learn skills but the opening of the recruiting floodgate.
Illinois and Northern Illinois have sent letters to Ryan, who wants to be in good-enough shape next season to be a two-way tackle.
Gaspari said before this season that Ryan's future was on offense. Ryan and Piron know that too, but each wants Ryan to play defense as long as possible.
BigUn's been working with the offense in practice all year and has seen some garbage-time blocking in games.
Next year will be his third year on varsity, and time for him to become a leader. That's next year, though.
This year, the signs of humility are all around. The seniors have no trouble putting him in his place, that's for sure.
"It's funny to watch him after practice waiting for a ride," senior cornerback Mike Stevens says. "You just look at him and go, 'What are you doing?' thinking he should be driving."
Really, Ryan is in the driver's seat already. His mother asked a caller looking for James, "Which James do you want? The big one, or the big one?"
Soon enough, she won't have to ask.
- Joe Bush can be reached by phone at (630) 587-8641 or by e- mail at jbush@@dailyherald.com.
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