The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 149 BY MICHAEL SPATH K nee football never really caught on as a sport, but in a world where America Ninja Warrior, Tough Mudder and the Crossfit Games have enjoyed huge spikes in popularity, perhaps the Ryan brothers should create a marketing plan to promote their game. "When we were growing up, there were four of us and we'd go down into the basement, and on our knees we'd play football — but really the point of the game was to tackle whoever had the ball as hard as we could," said Connor, 23, the eldest of four siblings in the family that includes Jake, 22, Zach, 20, and Ian, 17. The Ryans' grandfather, Francis Sweeney, played at Xavier, while their father, Tim, was a receiver at Wake Forest. The Ryan sons tried baseball, track and basketball, but football was in their blood. "Football was just something that all of us fell in love with," said Zack, a redshirt sophomore linebacker at Ball State. "My dad actually had us play baseball through grade school and none of us liked that. "He had us run track and we all hated running. We liked hitting, getting hit and scoring touchdowns. We tried basketball, too, but we were too aggressive for that. We belonged to football." Connor spent five seasons a wide receiver at Ball State, making 78 catches for 669 yards and five touchdowns from 2010‑13. Jake is a fifth‑year senior linebacker at Michigan while Zack is coming off a 2013 campaign in which he started 12 games and recorded 92 tackles. Ian will be a senior at St. Ignatius High School and is expected to play Division I football as well. "It's pretty awesome we've had the success we've had," Jake said. "Now that my career is over with and I have the time to look back on everything," Connor said, "it's almost shocking because I know how hard it is to make it at that level. And to have three of us, and probably four, is incredible." Family Competitions Made Him Who He Is While the three Division I Ryans joke with each other about who is the best, both Connor and Zack admit, begrudgingly, that Jake is the superior athlete, though they are quick to point out he had better genes than they did — Connor was 6‑1 and 194 pounds during his career and Zack is 5‑10 and 224, while Jake is 6‑3 and 235. Jake may also finish his career the most accomplished, holding the potential to earn All‑America honors this season. "I'm proud of what I've accomplished, but seeing my brother play in front of 100,000 each weekend, being a captain … I brag about him to others rather than try to talk about myself," Connor said. "And whether or not he would ever say it aloud, I like to think I had a positive influence on him becoming the leader and the type of football player he is now. "I think all of us, and my dad, had a hand in shaping Jake to become a great football player." Jake will attest to that, noting that the daily competitions to beat his older brother at whatever activity they engaged in, and the desire to stay at least one step ahead of a younger brother hot on his heels, spurred him to push harder in the weight room, on the practice field, in film study, in the classroom, or whatever he does. "I've always been aware there is competition, from guys that were older than me before this season, and guys that are younger than me, because that's what I'm used to," Jake said. "I always wanted to be better than Connor. I never wanted Zack to be better than me. I've just always had that mentality." With Connor a freshman at Ball State in 2009, it at least appeared the battle between siblings would occur on a level playing field over the next few seasons; Mid‑American Conference programs Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Toledo and Ball State were courting Jake. Late in the process, however, with Michigan needing to add defenders to its 2010 class, the Maize and Blue offered. "I'll be honest, I actually didn't [expect] — and I don't think my family expected — that to ever happen," Zack said. "His junior year, Jake was like 5‑11, 6‑0 and about 195 pounds, and then he had a growth spurt. "We all thought he would go to one of the MAC schools and be a great player, and then he gets a call from Michigan like two weeks before signing day. I couldn't believe it because … it was Michigan. He jumped from a MAC school to a Big Ten overnight. "Michigan made the right call. He's been a great player and we're all really excited to see how he'll finish off his senior year." On The Move In His Final Season Ryan was a surprise starter at strongside linebacker in 2011 during his redshirt freshman season, seizing the role when Cam Gordon came down with a back injury in fall camp. In 13 games, Ryan recorded 11 tackles for loss among his 37 total stops and showed the promise to be something special moving forward in his career. He starred at the Sam linebacker spot in 2012, leading U‑M in tackles (88), tackles for loss (16), sacks (4.5) and forced fumbles (four), and the anticipation of his junior season grew exponentially. But Ryan suffered an ACL tear in April 2013, putting his campaign in jeopardy. BROTHERLY LOVE Jake Ryan Can Thank His Siblings For Helping Him Become The Player He Is Today Ryan, a fifth-year senior, has recorded 151 to- tal tackles (98 solo), 31 stops behind the line of scrimmage, 7.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries so far in his career. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL "A lot of people look at it as he should have taken the year off, but I made the decision to come back to show how committed I am to Michigan and my teammates, and serving as captain gave me even more motivation to return." RYAN ON HIS RETURN FROM INJURY LAST SEASON 148-151.Jake Ryan.indd 149 6/19/14 1:34 PM

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