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John Ryan: Brothers, parents inspired Ryan to lead by example

Jared Jedick | Friday, November 20, 2009

The most important part of defensive end John Ryan’s Notre Dame football experience has been the opportunity to be a part of something greater than himself and a part of a meaningful tradition.

“I think just a big thing for me is just being a part of the Notre Dame family,” Ryan said. “I like being a part of the whole community, kind of just being a part of something special, with all the tradition and the pregame rituals.”

Having spent four years here, Ryan feels that he has been able to become a part of that tradition, something he feels very honored and humbled by.

“Yeah, I definitely feel like I am part of the tradition,” Ryan said. “Every game you hit the same sign as Jerome Bettis, you walk out of the tunnel and you see the band and the fans.”

That kind of love of family and tradition is something that’s been a cornerstone for Ryan’s entire life — not just at Notre Dame.

Ryan is the oldest brother of three. He said it’s his two younger brothers that inspire him to work hard every day.

“My brothers are definitely the inspiration of my life,” Ryan said of Patrick, a sophomore at Georgetown, and Michael, a sophomore at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ryan’s alma mater. “They have definitely been a huge impact on my life.”

Ryan sees his role as the oldest brother in his family as one that comes with important responsibilities, not the least of which is working to provide opportunities and inspiration to his younger brothers.

“The role of being the older brother has always inspired me to work harder to achieve things to give to them, to be the person they look up to,” Ryan said. “I want to set the standard and be a role model for them.”

Another great inspiration for Ryan has been his parents.

“In terms of my parents, they are biggest reason why I am the person I am today, from morals to work ethic,” Ryan said. “They have been there through the ups and downs, and they have always been a great asset to me.”

Ryan said his biggest hero in life is his father, Kevin, who has played the same type of role model for him that he said he hopes to play for his younger brothers.

“My biggest hero is probably my dad, just because he has really taught me to be the man that I am,” Ryan said. “He has really been an unbelievable role model, in terms of carrying yourself with class and how to act in the classroom and on the field.”

This heavy reliance upon the importance of family was what first led him to St. Ignatius High School, and then onwards into Notre Dame.

“I think, obviously, where I went to high school played a big part in my choice to come here,” Ryan said. “It is a Catholic university, a strong football program with a great tradition. I think going to Ignatius had a big part in my coming here.”

Ryan said he still remembers being recruited by head coach Charlie Weis.

“The whole process was kind of a whirl-wind,” Ryan said. “I had to pinch myself every morning because I was deciding to come to Notre Dame. I don’t regret it at all because it was one of the best decisions of my life.”

The experience of being recruited to Notre Dame, and the family-oriented and at-home feeling that Weis gave off is what really made the process special for Ryan.

“The whole thing was surreal,” Ryan said. “Opening up the mailbox and seeing three letters from Notre Dame, getting my one phone call every month, and having him come make his visit to my house, it was wild. It was something that was obviously a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Ryan’s emphasis on sticking together through thick and thin fortified him for a roller-coaster ride of college football career, from the highs of a BCS game to the lows of a 3-9 season.
He said he has no regrets about coming to play at Notre Dame.

“In terms of regrets, that is just how the game goes, you play a game with a ball with edges, and you don’t always know which way the ball is going to bounce,” Ryan said. “I can’t regret anything. I don’t regret coming here for a second. Some might look at it as a low point, but it’s all a matter of perspective. In terms of maturity and togetherness and work ethic I do not regret anything.”

Ryan still remembers well the first time he got on the field, freshman year in the win at home against Penn State, 41-17.

“It was unbelievable,” Ryan said. “The whole game I was waiting to go in there, the game was close, we were winning by a lot, but not quite enough for my to go in, but when [former defensive back Tom] Zbikowski picked up a fumble and ran it in, they said, alright, you are going in.”

Once Ryan got in, he was nervous, but after that everything settled down for him.

“Once I got out there, the first play, I felt butterflies, but once the ball was snapped that all went away,” Ryan said.

Ryan said the coaching staff has also had a big impact on his time at Notre Dame, from Weis to defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta and first-year defensive line coach Randy Hart.

“One of the biggest things [Coach Weis] has taught me is dedication, that if you are going to do something you have to put your whole heart into it,” Ryan said. “If you want to succeed in life, it really begins with your work ethic, and putting everything you have into your work.”

Beyond work ethic, his relationships with Tenuta and Hart have taught him to love the game of football.

“Coach Tenuta has been a huge influence as well, along with coach Hart,” Ryan said. “When they came here they really turned my outlook on football around, they put a positive spin on it. You could really tell that they care about their players and how they do.”

Ryan said he believes the biggest way in which he has grown as a player while he has been at Notre Dame is in his knowledge of the game.

“I have obviously become more well-rounded in terms of my knowledge,” Ryan said. “When you put an emphasis on studying the game, it really helps out.”

Some of Ryan’s best friends on the football team have been wide receiver Robby Parris, safety Kyle McCarthy and nose tackle Paddy Mullen, who have all spent a lot of time together.

“With Robby, we can sit and stare at blank walls and have fun. In terms of Kyle it is the same way. Whatever we do we are going to have fun,” Ryan said.

Outside of practice and school, Ryan only has a few needs, which involve resting and hanging out with his friends.

“I like sleeping,” Ryan said. “Because that is one thing I can definitely say I have not gotten enough of since I have been here. I enjoy sleep and playing a good round of golf with my buddies.”

Beyond college, Ryan is not sure what direction he wants to take his life, but he plans to have that figured out as soon as possible.

“I really don’t know what I want to do,” Ryan said. “I really haven’t even sat down to figure it out yet. I am only taking a couple credits next semester, so hopefully I will have plenty of time to figure everything out.”

Ryan’s biggest message is that he wants to have people know that he did things the right way and has always tried to be good to everyone.

“I always want to be nice to people. I want to be good to people,” Ryan said. “I just have tried to do things the right way, good or bad I want to leave with no regrets and do things the right way on and off the field.”