Matt Ryan might have had the hardest job in the Pac-12 this week. And, no, he’s not Larry Scott’s accountant.
Ryan serves as Colorado’s scout-team quarterback, giving the program’s first-team defense a look at opposing quarterbacks.
This week, with Arizona in limbo under center, Ryan has had to pull double duty. Half the time he’s Khalil Tate; the other half he’s Grant Gunnell.
CU lists Ryan among its “inactive roster players.” He doesn’t have a jersey number.
But this is a job Ryan takes seriously, and you would, too, if you had to take the path he took to get here.
Ryan’s journey began at Phoenix Brophy Prep, where he passed for nearly 2,000 yards as a senior in 2016.
Listed at 5 feet, 11 inches and lightly recruited, Ryan found himself without many college football options, so he started his odyssey at Ottawa University in Phoenix. The program at that time was nearly brand new and Ryan did not find what he was looking for educationally.
He transferred to Redlands University in La Verne, California, and played for its Division III football program. He appeared in a few games last year, but couldn’t get over his D-I dreams.
“We’ve always encouraged him to follow his dreams,” said his father, Rob. “He learned at a young age that in order to do that, you have to put in the work. He just never gave up on himself.”
Through a close friend, Ryan learned that Colorado would be having tryouts in late August this year.
Ryan circled the date on his calendar. Then he went to work, putting in five and sometimes six hours of training a day.
Sometimes, he’d complete the “Murph Challenge” — a grueling workout that features two mile-long runs, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 sit-ups.
Fit as ever and feeling ready, Ryan enrolled at CU in mid-August. The day of the tryout, Matt and Rob went out for breakfast and spotted a field near their hotel. They grabbed a football and threw, Matt trying to work off his nervous energy.
“I would say more anxious than nervous, but I had a really good feeling that I could go out and show what I could do, and that it would be enough to find a role on this team,” he said.
There were 15 attendees at the tryout. The whole thing took maybe a half-hour. There wasn’t much glory for the winner.
But Ryan wanted it, badly, and when an assistant coach asked him minutes after his tryout if he’d be willing to serve in the equipment room or as a student coach, he gleefully said he’d do anything to help the team.
That was a fake-out.
Thirty minutes later, Ryan got an email telling him he’d made the team, a moment he calls “both surreal and humbling.”
“That hour between his tryout and the email was pretty stressful for us,” Rob Ryan said. “I said, ‘We’re not giving up.’”
Of course not, that’s not in his blood.
“His mother and I are the same way,” Rob Ryan said. “We look at each other and I say, ‘I guess two negatives do make a positive.’ She says, ‘Wait, I’m not a negative,’ but I say you’re messing up the math.”
With his spot secured, Matt Ryan set out to make a difference. Little time to prepare for Week 1 kept him sidelined during practice, but for the last three weeks, he’s emulated Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez, Air Force’s DJ Hammond III and Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels.
Ryan’s role is an important one, and he’s taken it seriously.Portraying the diverse skill sets of Tate and Gunnell has been a difficult challenge for Ryan, but he’s embraced it.
“I’ve watched a lot of film on them and tried to pick up their habits,” he said.
“I try to be able to adapt both sides of my game, sit in the pocket or get in the run. Giving the defense both of those looks, they’ll be prepared.”
And every so often, Ryan will drop a dime that earns him praise from his offensive coaches, a feeling that momentarily satiates that chip on his shoulder.
“There are definitely moments where I’ll get them, and I think that’s normal — they’re getting new looks week by week,” he said.
“But I’m not gonna lie, it feels great. It’s also humbling.”
And it also gives him some reason to hope.
Buffaloes quarterback Steven Montez graduates this year, and they’re gonna have an opening at starter, and, well, stranger things have happened.
“I look at guys like Baker Mayfield, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, guys who are considered undersized,” he said. “But I had to make a path for myself, and that was to walk on and roll the dice. I believe I can hang with these guys. I can definitely hang.”
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