Ryan is trying to give others a good start
By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Before reporting for his first NFL training camp, Clifton Ryan had some business to take care of in his hometown. Business that has become vitally important for Ryan as well as Saginaw, Mich.
Ryan, a Rams defensive tackle, and fellow hometowner LaMarr Woodley, a rookie linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers, are partners in the "Heroes for Kids" golf outing in Saginaw. The third annual event took place July 25 — two days before players were to arrive at Rams Park.
Still, Ryan never considered skipping the day. More than $220,000 has been raised, with the proceeds going to various youth programs in Saginaw. Thousands of youngsters have benefited.
"It's the desire to give back," Ryan said. "I know I didn't get to this point in my life all by myself. I always had coaches, teachers, family members, friends, neighbors helping me out."
Ryan and Woodley are joined by other Saginaw athletes who are making a living in the pros, including NBA standout Jason Richardson. Football players from Michigan State, Ryan's alma mater, and Michigan, where Woodley starred, also attend as celebrity participants.
The idea was hatched when Ryan and Woodley, still in college at the time, learned that the youth programs were "in a desperate state as far as funding," Ryan said. "I took an active part in those programs when I was growing up."
The money is spread among several entities, some of which probably wouldn't have survived much longer.
"We feel as though it's our obligation to show those kids they can be the next Clifton Ryan or the next LaMarr Woodley or the next Jason Richardson," Ryan said. "Or be the next mayor of the city, or a doctor or a lawyer, or a police officer."
Ryan, 23, is capitalizing on the opportunity the Rams gave him when they selected him in the fifth round of the draft (No. 154 overall). He's elbowed his way into the rotation on the line at nose tackle and has played well enough "to the point where he's earned starter's playing time," coach Scott Linehan said.
"We're talking about a rookie, a fifth-round pick, probably not a lot of high expectations going in," Linehan added. "He's been one of our more productive defensive linemen. He's a real bright spot for us."
After collecting seven tackles last Sunday at Baltimore, Ryan has 27 for the season. End James Hall also has 27; no other defensive lineman has more than 22. Ryan and Hall also share the team high in sacks, with two apiece.
"He's a hard-nosed, blue-collar-type guy that just likes to beat people up," said fellow rookie lineman Adam Carriker, the Rams' first-round draftee, who has 13 tackles and no sacks. "Not literally ... on the football field."
At 6 feet 3 and 310 pounds, Ryan is what defensive coordinator Jim Haslett calls a prototypical nose tackle. "He's not just a nose tackle that eats up space; he gets out of the blocks and makes plays," Haslett said. The position isn't for the faint of heart. Nose tackles line up directly over the center and usually are double-teamed by a guard.
"You've got one coming straight at you and one coming from your right or your left," Ryan explained, "and pretty much your job is to defeat those two guys for three hours."
To do so takes savvy and strength, which, veteran defensive tackle La'Roi Glover noted, Ryan has in abundance.
"He's got natural leverage, and he's extremely strong, strong as an ox," Glover said. "More important than anything, he's tough. You've got to be tough to consistently take those double-teams and take that pounding."
Ryan didn't always toil in the trenches, though. He was a fullback and linebacker at Arthur Hill High who attracted offers from most of the Big Ten schools, as well as Georgia and Georgia Tech. He chose Michigan State because he wanted to stay close to home.
The Spartans' coaches first pegged him as an outside linebacker. "But I was still growing," Ryan said. "I just kept growing out of positions."
Winding up at nose tackle suited him. "I think that position best fits my skills as a football player," Ryan said. "It's not really a glory position, but I don't play ball for the glory. I just like to go out there and have fun."
Doing it in the NFL, for pay, enhances the enjoyment, he emphasized.
"It's a huge opportunity, playing against the best in the world every Sunday," he said. "You can't ask for a better situation."
Unless it's providing the youngsters back home hope for a similar outcome. "Those kids," Ryan said, "deserve the same opportunities that I had."
Re: Ryan is trying to give others a good start
it's such a breath of fresh air , in a season filled with disappointment , and players that don't deserve the right to be on a team , ( terrell ) that a player shows this kind of metal . i was so glad when the rams drafted him , i hope that the rams keep him and carreker for years ans years like the old lines of YOUNGBLOOD , DRYER , OLSEN .