Friday, July 22, 2011

Update on large HS freshman prepares for D1 career

HighBeam Research

Title: Big man on campus James Ryan might be on the verge of becoming the first Batavia player to sign with a Big Ten university, but he's not ready to rest on his laurels.(Sports Extra)

Date: 8/30/2002; Publication: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL); Author: Bush, Joe
Byline: Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
When last we looked in on Batavia's James Ryan, he was a 300- plus-pound sophomore, waiting by the curb for a parent to pick him up after practice.
Today, the 280-pounder drives a 1994 Thunderbird he bought with money saved from his job as a porter at a car dealership. He is waiting to prove himself despite having verbally committed to play football at the University of Illinois beginning next fall.
Ryan, already Batavia's first Big Ten football recruit, wants to be the program's first All-America. Last year's knee injury, which kept him from half the season, has been a motivational blessing in the guise of a brace.
"He isn't throwing around the fact that he's gonna be a Big Ten player," Batavia coach Mike Gaspari says. "I think he senses, primarily because of the injury last year, that he has some things to prove. He's got some goals that he wants to attain at this level before he moves on."
Gaspari knows Ryan better than he's known most of the players in his 18 years as the boss of the Bulldogs football program. Ryan was too big to play youth football, so he got his pigskin fix at Gaspari's summer camps and was a team manager starting in seventh grade.
"He's really been around for the last eight or nine years," Gaspari says. "Seems like he's been here forever."
It's no surprise to Gaspari, then, that one of the reasons Ryan won't rest on his scholarship offer and verbal commitment is that college coaches will continue to watch him and send mail to him in case he changes his mind before the nation letter-of-intent signing dates in January and February.
Ryan doesn't plan on switching his allegiance - though in 2000 his dream was to play for Michigan - but he reasons that more eyes on him mean more on his teammates.
The baby-faced "BigUn" is now lean and mean by necessity, but the gentle giant is now inside his chest.
Ryan picked Illinois because of its education program. BigUn wants to be a teacher; he got all gooey when someone told him that several children were looking for him at the program's recent annual corn boil.
"I've always loved when people look up to you," the 6-6 two-way tackle says without irony.
Ryan doesn't often look up at people now, but he still looks up to some. His folks, his coaches, and former Bulldog Chris Browning.
Browning, in his senior year at Western Michigan as a defensive lineman, adopted Ryan when the little big kid patrolled the Batavia sidelines in 1997.
Ryan supervised the water-boy crew and held onto Browning's defensive gloves and to a towel for Browning's face. It was Browning who nicknamed Ryan.
"He'd say, BigUn, anybody picking on you, come tell me," Ryan says. "I went to every single practice. Even when I broke my wrist, I didn't miss a practice."
At that point, the number of people who would harass Ryan was dwindling quickly. He was 6-foot and 220 pounds.
"He's always been a big kid, but he's a big teddy bear, too," says Steve Tracy, who plays guard alongside Ryan. "We always knew that James was gonna play football."
First, though, Ryan played soccer, for nine years. Whether you try to picture him playing soccer then or now, the sight would be priceless. And no, he wasn't a goalie.
"I was halfway decent," says Ryan, who once scored from midfield. "You can muscle people around a little bit."
Ryan last played in an indoor game at St. Charles East's sports complex, and his participation in soccer set the stage for a nimble high school sports career.
"That's why he's as quick as he is," Tracy says of Ryan's soccer life.
If he chooses not to wrestle this year, he leaves behind a stint marked by a Suburban Prairie Red frosh-soph heavyweight title and a berth in last season's Class AA tournament in Assembly Hall.
Ryan also claimed the SPR's top frosh-soph discus prize. This season he will play on both lines, and he will punt.
With that workload it's a good thing Ryan has learned to cut back on his food intake, and to put on the brakes.
He took some advice this summer and simply stopped working out. For three weeks Ryan swam and relaxed.
"It worked wonders," he says. "I'd been going three years straight."
Which brings us back to a somewhat shy sophomore who'd make you wonder if he'd ever be aggressive enough to realize his potential.
Ryan talks a mean game these days -"If they're in my way, they're gone" - and by all accounts keeps a mean streak tucked under his helmet.
"He's a great guy, a great role model for anybody," Tracy says, "but when he puts them pads on, he can take it to you, and he will take it to you, every time."
Though Ryan's 6-6 father, James, provided the DNA for BigUn's football foundation, he didn't play football. Grandpa Donald did, though, for Notre Dame's meat squad.
Big for his time at 6-1, 210, Donald died earlier this year. BigUn's keeping the spirit alive.
"His level of confidence is the biggest difference between then and now," Gaspari says. "Which is not unusual for any of the kids, but when you're 6-6, 280, and you were pretty good as a freshman, and your level of confidence continues to grow, it makes for a pretty good high school football player by the time you're a senior."
COPYRIGHT 2002 Paddock Publications
This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.  All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.

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