It's hard to imagine someone other than Jeff Ryan lining up under center for the Youngstown State football team.
But that's exactly what the Penguins are facing as they begin spring practice March 20.
Ryan completed his remarkable four-year career last season and will give way to an uncharacteristic period of uncertainty at quarterback for Youngstown State football.
Symbol: Ryan was a staple of Youngstown State football. His gritty style of play resembled the blue-collar foundation upon which Youngstown was built.
Time and again, Ryan threw his 6-foot-1, 185-pound body into the fray, up against any-sized defender in his way. That was evidenced by his 1,872 rushing yards, a school record by a quarterback for his career, and 17 touchdowns.
He also set career school marks in touchdown passes (50), total offensive yards (8,098), total offensive plays (1,408), quarterback rating (137.83) and touchdowns for which he was responsible (67).
Get the picture yet?
Jeff Ryan is the model and the message that Youngstown State football should follow.
He played the position watched and scrutinized more than any other. But what made him a central figure within the program was his local roots, first starring for Boardman High, where he became a USA Today honorable mention and All-Ohio first team selection.
For Youngstown State football to continue to thrive, it must seek the Jeff Ryans on today's high school football fields. These are players who not only show tremendous leadership but can be identified with through their local ties.
The high school talent the Mahoning Valley produces on the gridiron each year, combined with the winning tradition Youngstown State has created, should result in a steady flow of local players into the Penguins program.
The current roster is seasoned with local talent, and coach Jon Heacock, who will begin his second year, also followed that trend with his recent recruiting class.
Jeff Ryans are not easy to find, but they are out there. It is up to Heacock and his staff to continually fill those shoes.
Quarterback shuffle: With Ryan gone, the Penguins must find the next quarterback to guide the offense. That position appears up for grabs going into the spring.
The job seemed set for senior-to-be Colby Street of Armstrong Mills. But last year's backup to Ryan must first sure up academic matters before he can sure up the offense.
That means redshirt freshman Aaron Marshall will begin spring drills as the frontrunner at quarterback.
Other quarterbacks who plan to make an impact in the program are Justin Green, a senior transfer from Bethany College, and Matt Crivello, a transfer from Cabrillo Junior College (Calif.).
Another local standout, redshirt freshman Ben Bair of Poland, was also in the mix, but he has decided to focus on academics instead of football.
Next up: So, who will be the next Jeff Ryan, the player whom fans will count on each week, the player who will be relied upon for leadership?
Senior-to-be P.J. Mays is the first who comes to mind. The 5-9, 210-pound tailback is a force in the backfield, using speed and power to run over defenses. Mays is also a Youngstown native, starring for East High before choosing and then transferring from the University of Cincinnati.
But each season brings new standouts, new stories, new Jeff Ryans.
There were many times that Ryan left fans bewildered by the plays he executed on the field. They often asked, "How did he do that?"
With the Ryan era over, fans will need that new player to identify with. Who will step forward?
XBrian Richesson is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.