The long blond locks he sported for several years as a linebacker at the University of Michigan could fool you into thinking he was a West Coast surfer dude, but Jake Ryan grew up in the midwest and had never before been to California. Now, the first-team All-Big Ten player is preparing for the NFL Combine at Proactive Sports Performance in Santa Ana, and he looks right at home.
“I’ve always wanted to live [in California] but never had the chance, being from Ohio,” said Ryan, who grew up in the Cleveland suburb of Westlake.
Following his senior season at Michigan, when he recorded 112 tackles, second-best in the Big Ten, Ryan was a finalist for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker. However, his standout year was overshadowed by the Wolverines’ mediocre 5-7 season. Michigan fired head coach Brady Hoke shortly after the season ended, and Ryan’s name seemed to get lost in the shuffle behind other top NFL prospects.
STACK sat down with Ryan to talk about his training, which he’s doing alongside potential first rounder Lorenzo Mauldin and under the occasional supervision of former Tennessee Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck; learning the ins-and-outs of NFL defenses; and of course, the California sunshine.
STACK: What’s it been like training out here in sunny California?
Jake Ryan: It’s great. So you get the sense that you’re working hard every single day, but you get some relaxing time in the afternoon. Today we were doing yoga. That’s just one thing that we do that benefits you and relaxes you. I’ve had a great experience and gotten a lot out of it, and just have to keep building toward the NFL Combine.
You and fellow linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin have been working with former All-Pro Keith Bulluck. What’s he taught you?
It’s everything. You know, he’s been through it. He’s been through it all, and just preparing us for the Combine and getting us ready: What are coaches going to ask? What is this like? What is that like? I think that’s one takeaway that he brings. And it’s also coming here and doing boardwork with him. Drawing my plays up–Cover 3, man defenses and stuff like that. So, you know, it just gets us ready.
You and Lorenzo are together doing the same stuff almost every day. Have you two developed a bond?
Yeah, absolutely. We’ve become friends, we’ve grown closer, just being with him every single day, you know, lifting and doing the off-the-field work with Keith. I’m asking him questions, he’s asking me questions, so it’s a good bonding experience.
There’s a little competition there too, isn’t there?
Oh yeah, absolutely. You know, the numbers aspect of it and stats in the weight room and on the field doing 40 work. It’s always good to have another linebacker to compete with.
What’s the most important drill for you as a linebacker as you prepare for the NFL Combine?
I don’t think it’s so much the drills as it is just knowing your position and knowing what’s happening in the defense and in the boardwork. Just showing the coaches that you can actually do that—knowing where everyone goes, where the safeties come down, stuff like that—and knowing tendencies that the offense might have.
Is it kind of crazy how close you are to being able to say “I’m in the NFL”?
College went by fast. I had a great experience there, a great experience at Michigan. Coming here, I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. Right when I get to the Combine, I think it’s gonna be there. It’s been a great ride, and I can’t wait until the next step.
What’s been your motivation to get through this whole process? These workouts are no joke.
I’d say my motivation would just be my parents. My family, people who told me—I mean, I wasn’t really highly recruited out of high school, so people who told me I couldn’t do it, that’s huge. Those are things that push me every single day.
We can’t imagine your parents not being a little bit jealous of you spending your winter in the warm weather.
My mom wants to kill me half the time, because I tell her I’m sitting in 78-degree weather while she’s slipping on ice in 30-degree weather back in Cleveland.
Read more about the stars of the 2015 NFL Draft.