JEFF RYAN Passion, toughness impress new Penguin coach
He's battered and bruised, but Ryan isn't complaining -- or slowing down.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Add Brian White's name to the list of Jeff Ryan fans.
White is in his first season as quarterback coach for Youngstown State University after joining the team this past spring.
Ryan, the three-year starter for the Penguins, missed all of spring football practice recovering from surgery and other injuries so White didn't see him live in action until a couple of weeks ago when camp began.
"I had only watched Jeff on film until camp opened," White said. "When I saw him, the first thing that stuck out was how fast he plays the quarterback position.
"He can run and put pressure on the defense and we're working to try and make him even faster," White added.
"The second thing you notice about Jeff is his toughness and his passion for the game," he added. "He's a guy that you want to make sure you have around for 15 games."
Ryan came to YSU in 1998 and took over the starting position three games into his freshman season. A Boardman native, he has played in all 38 of YSU's games the past three years -- starting 31 of those games.
He took the Penguins to the I-AA national championship game in Chattanooga, Tenn. in 1999, which the Penguins lost to Georgia Southern 59-24.
Injury bug: Last season Ryan, a 6-foot-1, 185-pounder, battled injuries to his right shoulder and wrist but still played in every game, starting 11 of 12 and leading the Penguins back into the playoffs.
Ryan had surgery on his shoulder last winter, then had his right wrist placed in a cast to help heal a slight bone fracture. He missed all of spring drills, but feels as good as he ever has going into the season.
"I've never heard him say one word about his wrist bothering him," White added. "And I don't expect to either. Jeff doesn't have the strongest arm in the world, but he makes up for it with his quick release."
No one doubts who is YSU's No. 1 quarterback. Even after spring drills, the other guys were just battling for the backup spot.
Junior Colby Street (6-2, 228) and freshman redshirt Ben Bair (6-3, 199) of Poland are the next two candidates, although freshman Aaron Marshall of Detroit, Mich., a walk-on, is giving the other two a battle.
Another candidate is senior Justin Green, who transferred to YSU from Bethany College and is required to sit out one season according to NCAA transfer rules. He will be a senior in 2002.
"Colby and Ben have made some good strides since spring and Aaron really showed me some things about himself in last week's scrimmage," White said. "He's really going to be a good one."
Still the man: But it still comes back to Ryan.
"Jeff looks like he hasn't missed a beat from last season," White added. "He's got to take care of himself a little better this year and not put himself up for the punishment he took last year."
A veteran offensive line should also help Ryan in that department.
White said he has been impressed Ryan's leadership, both off and on the field.
"Last week in our team meetings the seniors all got up and talked to the team," White said. "When Jeff got up and talked to them, you just knew that this was his team that he was talking to. He won the entire team over."
Having Ryan around is like having another coach.
"He coaches the other quarterbacks, the running backs and the wide receivers," White said. "I told him to just go ahead and coach them, nobody knows this offense any better than he does."
White also likes having depth at the quarterback spot; the Penguins currently have five players there.
"Last spring we had only two until we brought Charles Mister over from wide receiver," he said. "Charles is back with the wide receivers now."
Record holder: Ryan enters the 2001 season with a chance to hold every passing record in the school's history.
Last season he broke the school's career touchdown record with 42. He's also within reach of career passing yardage, career completions and career passing attempts.
He owns the school record for total offense in a season with 3,211 yards set in 1999 and passing yards with 2,573, along with a passing efficiency mark of 151.68.
He was a second team All-Gateway Conference pick last season and honorable mention All-American. He was named to the 2001 preseason All-Gateway Conference team.