It was a hole not even a Super Bowl championship could fill, but after more than a decade in professional football, Jon Ryan’s childhood dream of playing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders is becoming a reality.
“This is just what he hoped would happen at this point in his career,” said Erica Honoway, Ryan’s older sister. “He’s always wanted to be a Rider since he was a little boy.”
Ryan comes from a big family of football fans, with two older sisters and a younger brother. Long before the NFL was in the picture, Ryan started on his home turf: his driveway.
“We actually had a league at one point too; the Kids Football League, the KFL. We won the league,” Ryan’s brother Steve said.
The win was a “joint effort” according to Ryan, who credits his younger brother with his competitive spirit.
“That competitive spirit was in us since we could play sports together,” Ryan said. “We were competitive the 16 hours a day that we were awake together. That made us both better.”
Steve says while the competition was fierce, he usually ended up on the wrong side of the finish line.
“Being the younger brother, you lose more times than you win,” Steve said. “It would start out fun and it would end in a fist fight. Then we’d make amends and go back out and start playing again.”
Inspiring the next generation of Spartans
Ryan’s competitive nature and passion for football landed him a spot on Sheldon-Williams Collegiate football team.
Ryan and the rest of the Spartans won a provincial championship back in 1999. Eric Anderson, who’s now the head coach of Sheldon-Williams football program, played alongside Ryan.
“He was incredibly clutch as an athlete. Anytime you needed a big play, like in the city final for example,” said Anderson, adding Ryan scored two touchdowns that game. “He’s always just someone you can depend on.”
While Anderson says that Ryan is a gifted athlete, he didn’t get to where he is today without a great deal of hard work.
“I grew up a couple blocks from here and I can distinctly remember several days, multiple days, weekends you could see the ball flying through the air from my parents’ house. You could hear it coming off his foot,” Anderson said. “If you had nothing else to do, you could run over and shag punts for him.”
“He was obsessed with perfecting his skill.”
Ryan’s passion for perfection is something that Anderson passes on to his players, including Dorian Copeman, a Grade 10 student who aspires to play college ball one day.
Copeman says it’s inspiring to see a former Spartan move onto the NFL and come back home to play for the Roughriders.
“Kids in our own school, they look up to him and it gives us hope that we can be in a higher division,” Copeman said.
Green is the colour, family is the game
While Ryan is an inspiration to many up-and-coming footballers, his biggest fans are his family.
Five of his nieces and nephews play flag football in Regina. They hope their Uncle Jon can come watch their games, just as often as they plan to watch his.
“We were on the internet looking for season tickets as soon as we heard the news,” said Honoway. “We’ll be at every game, our kids will be decked out in green and white and it’s going to be great.”
Ryan’s nieces and nephews have only seen the punter play live once or twice, but his success has left a lasting impression on his family.
“Jon has shown our kids that the sky’s the limit,” Honoway said. “From their perspective, dreams come true. We’ve just run with that and we tell them to shoot for the stars and that they can do it just like he did.”
Ryan’s six-year-old nephew Lincoln isn’t taken the advice lightly. He plans to follow in Ryan’s footsteps.
Honoway says, selfishly, she can’t wait for Ryan to move back home for family suppers on Sundays. She says they’ve followed him from the television screen long enough, and it will be refreshing to cheer him on in person.
“We’ve followed every punt of every game of his entire career, cheered him on the ups and the downs,” Honoway said. “We just couldn’t be more proud.”