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Matt Ryan: BC's Heisman hopeful

Published: Thursday, September 6, 2007

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

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Quarterback Matt Ryan overcam the struggles of his first start to become the ACC's premier quarterback.


Nobody knows exactly when Matt Ryan became a Heisman candidate. It might have happened back in seventh grade, when his high school coach Brian McCloskey saw a kid who was "destined" for greatness.Or maybe it was in the high school baseball state championship game, where he made his first start on the mound as a freshman - and won.

Or maybe it happened five years later when Clemson's David Dunham knocked Ryan out cold (YouTube), but the sophomore quarterback got back up to grab Boston College's first-ever ACC win.

Or maybe it happened last week, when the senior unleashed 408 yards and five touchdowns on Wake Forest (The Heights).

But perhaps no one will know when it happened because Ryan just won't talk about the Heisman - or any award, for that matter. In July, Mike Ryan immediately called his son after he heard ESPN analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., call Matt the second-best signal-caller in the nation.

The honoree's reaction?

"Well, looks like we've got a little work to do."

If ever a family could breed a Heisman Trophy winner, it's the Ryan's of Exton, Pa. The Ryan brothers - Michael, Matt, and John - were, or in John's case, are, three-sport athletes for William Penn Charter High School in Philadelphia. All three played quarterback, and sister Kate was a high school volleyball player.

For his part, Matt loved sports from the start. Mike and Bernie Ryan thought their son was destined to wear Converse, not cleats, after he took a liking to basketball when he was nine. His YMCA team was, according to Mike Ryan, "the most dominant bitty basketball team of all time."

"We carted these guys all over to peewee ball and Little League, so when I saw Matt still unbelievably pumped up to strap the pads on and play in high school, I was just thrilled," Mike says.

Throughout high school, Matt was attached to Michael's hip, following his older brother to pickup basketball games with guys three years his senior and more than a few inches taller. By the time Matt played them on a real field he was ready: with Matt as a freshman third baseman, his Penn Charter baseball team beat Michael's Malvern Prep squad.

And then there's his uncle John Loughery - known, for better or worse, as "The Guy Flutie Replaced." Loughery was BC's starting quarterback from 1979-1980, until torn ligaments permanently sidelined his career just before his junior season.

In comes Flutie, out goes the ball to Gerard Phelan (YouTube), and the Heisman Trophy in the Yawkey Center tells the rest of the story.

"My roommates said I ought to get to the Hall of Fame for getting injured," Loughery says. "I try very hard not to be biased, but Matt has to rank up there with [Flutie] as one of the best at BC."

But Loughery insists he doesn't deserve too much credit for pushing his nephew toward Chestnut Hill. Ryan worked out for several Big Ten and ACC schools, but his recruiting was otherwise light, thanks in part to the ankle injury that kept his junior-year numbers down.

"Mike [Ryan] called me while I was on vacation and said it looked like Matt was going to Iowa," says Loughery, who also coached Matt for the Little Quakers grade school football team. "I didn't want to totally influence him, but I talked with him and he knew where I wanted him to go."

For various reasons, Ryan eventually turned to BC: the academics, a liking to then-head coach Tom O'Brien, and proximity to his family (22 hotel rooms were needed in Charlotte to house the Ryan fan club at last year's bowl game [The Heights]).

"We were just hoping he would be a great quarterback, or even a good quarterback," says O'Brien, whose staff first saw Ryan on the basketball court in high school, not the football field.

"But, he's unquestionably the best quarterback we had in my 10 years [at BC]."

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But before Ryan could come to BC, he had the gridirons of Philadelphia - not to mention the courts and diamonds - to conquer.

William Penn Charter is a small private school in Philadelphia, with only 240 boys from grades nine-12. When an athlete like Matt Ryan shows up, each of the coaches want their piece.

"I was waiting for the time when he would come to me and say, 'I'm gonna concentrate on football,' but it never came," says Jim Phillips, Penn Charter's basketball coach. "But Matt was a football player in the fall, a basketball player in winter, and a baseball player in the spring."

And no season was a letdown, with Ryan named the captain of all three teams his senior year. In basketball, Phillips says Ryan could "shoot the daylights out of the ball," and the small forward helped win Penn Charter's first league title since the 1980s - albeit with the help of All-ACC first team guard at Virginia, Sean Singletary (UVA Athletics), who was also Ryan's leading receiver. Ryan played third base, shortstop, and pitched, starting and winning his first game in the state championship his freshman year.

"I kind of miss playing those other sports," says Ryan, who also played basketball with current Notre Dame basketball player Rob Kurz (ND Athletics). "But playing with Sean and Rob made me realize basketball wasn't going to happen after high school."

But while he played a supporting role in the other sports, it was clear who the star was on the football field.

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