On Fridays during football season, something happens to Jack Ryan. From the moment the usually quiet and collected Weddington senior wakes up on game-day mornings, he’s not the same person he is any other day of the week.
By the time he finally steps onto the football field on Friday night, he’s long been transformed into a focused and aggressive tackling machine, helping lead one of the county’s best and stingiest defenses.
“Off the field I’m calm and level-headed – I really don’t talk that much,” said Ryan, who quarterbacks the Warriors’ defensive from his middle linebacker spot. “On Friday, I’m a whole different person. I get focused and zone everything else out. When I step on the field, I’m just focused on football and making plays.”
Ryan’s makeover worked well in the Warriors’ season-opening win, as his play helped stymy any Ardrey Kell attempt at an offensive attack.
When the Knights were able to move the ball, Ryan’s No. 2 jersey was right in the middle of the action on seemingly every play. Whether he was dragging down ball carriers, knocking receivers off their routes or breaking up passes, Ryan was simply all over the field – something Warriors’ fans have become accustomed to seeing.
This season, and admittedly much different from last year, Ryan said he’s controlling the aggression that’s made him one of the county’s most feared defenders.
“Last year I did a lot of stupid crap, but I’m going to shut those things down and not do them any more,” Ryan said. “I learned from doing all of those things and I’ve matured into a different player.”
Take a particular play from Week 1, where an Ardrey Kell player hit Ryan, probably illegally, on the sideline. As the crowed jeered, jarred by the magnitude of the sound resonating from the collision, Ryan simply got up, smiled at his antagonist and went on about his business.
“(Against Ardrey Kell) I got smoked on the sideline and it should have been a late hit or some kind of (penalty),” Ryan said. “I just got up and held my cool. Last year, it probably wouldn’t have gone like that.”
That doesn’t mean Ryan is getting soft. This season, he’s more mature and focused than ever, and believes that will help him and the Warriors have their best season in recent memory.
So far, with a 2-0 start, Ryan’s new attitude seems to be paying off.
“Coach (Tim Carson) says, ‘Walk on a line but don’t go over it.’ That’s 100 percent how I try to play,” Ryan said. “On the field I’m a fiery guy, but I think I’ve learned to control that.”
One reason Ryan has focused on channeling his competiveness is last season’s Southern Carolina all-conference team. When it was announced last season, Ryan’s name was omitted, despite compiling more than 100 total tackles as the leader of a stout Weddington defense..
“I didn’t make all-conference last year and I felt it was just for that one reason,” he said. “I felt I played well enough on the field, but my actions and the penalties I got were probably the only reason why (I wasn’t selected).
That’s a goal of mine, to make all-conference this year, so I’m going to let my play speak for me.”
Through two games, Ryan’s play is leaving a lasting impression on opponents who are used to trying to get under his skin. This year, they’re going to have to try a different approach.
“When you watch all of the good players, they all do what they do and then they get up and walk back to the huddle and then they do it the next play and the next play after that,” Ryan said. “I know that last year there were some guys who didn’t like me and I’m sure there are some this year, too, but I’m not going to let that get to me.”
Last year, when Weddington became the first county team to beat rival Porter Ridge since November 2009, the magnitude of Ryan’s approaching senior season began to hit him. He decided then to make a change.
Now that he’s a senior, Ryan wants to be a lead-by-example guy who creates a lasting impression on the Warriors’ program.
“We felt like we could beat Porter Ridge,” Ryan said. “Ever since middle school we’ve been getting beat by them, but we felt like we could beat them last year. We had a great game plan and executed it perfectly.”
While recalling the middle school losses the Warriors used to take, Ryan thought back to how far he’s come since those days to where he is now – the leader of one of the county’s best defenses.
“I’ve been playing football my whole life, ever since Mighty Mights since I was 6 or 7,” Ryan said. “It’s unbelievable that it’s already my senior year; it comes very, very quickly. I remember freshman year looking up at the seniors saying, ‘Wow, I can’t imagine being that person.’
“It’s great. It’s everything that I’ve always wanted and I’m so glad that it’s finally here. It’s awesome and I’m so ready to be a leader for us.”
Despite losing a number of key contributors, including Ryan’s brother, Billy, who is now a freshman at the Citadel, this is shaping up to be the season the Warriors can win the Southern Carolina title and be a major player for a state title.
“I think our team has really come together this year,” Ryan said. “We had a lot of seniors leave from last year on our defense but the kids who came in and took their spots have stepped up and we’re all playing as one family, playing as a group.”
Behind Ryan’s example, even with his toned-down demeanor, the Warrior faithful have good reason to be excited about this team.
“I love being the leader of the defense. I love picking up the younger kids and keep them focused and trying to make them get better,” he said. “I love to play, I love to hit kids and fly around. Getting big hits is definitely the best part of football. I love to be right in the center of the action.”
Whatever Weddington’s defense is going to accomplish this season, Ryan is going to be right in the middle of it, and that’s a good thing for Warriors fans.
“I want to accomplish more than this team has ever accomplished before,” Ryan said. “I want to beat our big rivals like Marvin (Ridge), Sun Valley and beat Country Day. I just want to be better than we ever have before.
“I want to do better in the playoffs, I want to do better in the regular season and that’s really all I’m focusing on for this year.”