He came to UC as a three year letter winner at Pickerington Central High School. He was a 195 pound safety/wingback looking for someone to give him the opportunity to prove he could play Division IA college football. Coach Dantonio gave him that opportunity when he offered him a spot on the Bearcat roster as a preferred walk-on in 2003. Preferred walk-ons are guaranteed a roster spot and nothing else, but Dantonio's generosity or foresight is starting to pay dividends now that Ryan Manalac is lining up with the #1 defensive unit this spring.
The four sport athlete from Pickerington has concentrated on football while at Cincinnati, and his work in the weightroom has him looking and even acting the part of a college linebacker. Manalac has evolved from a 195 pound defensive back to an active, intimidating 225 pound outside linebacker. Many defensive backs don't really want to get any closer to the line of scrimmage since that's where the bigger guys roam, but "Mano" doesn't seem to mind at all. "It really hasn't been much of an adjustment for me because I like to hit. The biggest thing was my weight because I was light. As I get more weight, it's easier to take the blows and blocks."
In last year's final game, Manalac drew a start against Rutgers. He feels that experience has helped him mentally. "Last year getting the chance to play gave me some confidence. I have a lot more confidence now in spring ball, and I hope it keeps building as I get better and smarter on the field."
Several Bearcat walk-ons received scholarships last season including Tony Carvitti, who now even starts on defense. That point hasn't been lost on Ryan Manalac. "Tony's work ethic is real good. He fights on the field. He, (Kevin) McCullough and (Evan) Sparks all paved the way as walk-ons earning scholarships. I‘m trying to follow in their footsteps."
Playing with the #1 defense is a good start to earning that scholarship, and Ryan says he's not surprised to be in this position. "I'm not surprised. I think I can play, but I'm trying to do everything I can. I just need to keep competing." Holding onto that starting spot won't be easy since Corey Smith, 2nd team all Big East outside linebacker, has been held out of all contact this spring due to shoulder surgery.
As Ryan continues to mature both physically and mentally, he feels his gains mirror the team's growth for next season. "I think we'll be stronger and more confident next year at least on the defensive side of the ball. I've seen us make tremendous gains, and I think we'll be a lot better. We'll know what to do and play with power."
Asked to identify his strengths, Ryan replied, "I think I'm a smart player out there. I try to know what I'm doing on every play. I make my reads and try to play fast with power."
I predicted early in spring that Ryan Manalac will be the next walk-on to earn a scholarship. So far he hasn't let me down.