Ryan Hebert is a great example of a player who had his choice of schools, yet found everything he needed and then some at Southern Miss. The game of football was just part of Hebert's story in Hattiesburg, and like so many who have gone through the Southern Miss campus, he's found a lifelong home in the pine belt.
Hebert, originally from Gray, Louisiana, played his high school ball at Bourgeios HS where he was a highly sought after prospect despite his team's struggles. He signed with Southern Miss and had a tremendous career blocking for one of the best Running backs to ever come through, as well as a huge regime change for the football program.
Through it all, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who played with more heart and loved his school more than Ryan Hebert. On Wednesday, he told his story to GoldenEaglePride.com for our weekly "Throwback Thursday" feature.
The talented lineman spent 5 years in the USM program from 2005- 2009, including one redshirt year in 2005. He loved his time in south Mississippi so much, he decided to settle down and call it home.
"After graduation I went up to St. Louis to mini camp with the Rams and I spent a week out there before being released," Hebert explained.
"That was fun and a great experience but I wish it could have lasted longer. I came home and got a job in Laurel and now I'm living in Petal. I got married and have a little boy named Bryce who will be two years old in December. I am living life and enjoying the many obstacles and joys of being a father, it is certainly life changing all for the good.
"Bryce is already hitting baseballs off a tee and you can't do anything without seeing him with some type of ball, so I believe he's going to be a little athlete."
Rewinding the clock back to his high school days, he had no problems remembering how Southern Miss brought him in to the family.
"The winning tradition that is here at Southern Miss is what caught my eye," Hebert said.
"I came from a high school where I won 7 games in 3 years and 5 of those were in my senior year. That played a huge part in my commitment to be honest with you. I had a lot of big schools offer, but it was the winning tradition and Coach Bower that just really made the difference for me. Knowing the type of guy that he was it was hard to pull away and go anywhere else.
"I wanted to play right away and win conference championships and that is what drew me in. I was welcomed right away and we still talk about that tradition to the day. You don't have another school that will line up and fight to the end like the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.
"I heard about Southern Miss but they weren't a top choice for me until they started recruiting me hard and came to my high school. Then I visited and just really saw myself playing my college football there."
After coming in and spending a year learning the college football life and what all that entails, Hebert stepped right in and competed for a starting job in his redshirt freshman year. He played in four games that year on the offensive line, and also had several snaps in special teams. His redshirt sophomore year, he started after battling through a pre-season knee injury. His junior and senior seasons, he vaulted his way to becoming one of the elite offensive lineman in the conference.
"We can talk all day about memories that will be with me forever," he said.
"The Virginia game in 2009 when they came to us was a game I'll never forget. We got down big in the 2nd half and we continued to fight and ended up winning the game. We could have easily just gone down and gave up and not really think about trying to win that one, but we were able to just pull together and fight. We had so much fun with the group of guys that I was there, it was just like my brothers for life."
During his career, Hebert had to overcome a lot of obstacles, none more than the major coaching change that took place.
"It was very tough seeing Coach Bower and all those coaches that had been there go," he explained.
"Those were the coaches that recruited us and they are like your family, they are who you are with when you leave home. You commit to the university but you also commit to the coaching staffs too. When that news broke we were very disappointed and upset at the time but once we got to know the coaches that were coming in things smoothed out.
"There were several of us, before we met the new coaching staff, that were thinking about transferring out. I was looking hard into transferring to Nichols State, and I didn't want to start all over and rebuild things. I was asking, do I really want to go back and do everything over? Looking at it now, I was glad I didn't leave. I met my wife after the fact so I'm really happy about that. But, I had some of my best years playing for Coach Fedora and Coach Kap, and him and I stay in touch to this day. We shoot messages back and forth and we will always pull for those guys as they check on us too."
The coaching change also was a major shift in offensive philosophy which certainly impacted what he was used to in the trenches.
"Huge adjustment for us as offensive linemen, obviously," he said.
"We were a team that liked to build off establishing the run to an up tempo spread it out team. We ran and ran and ran, and we just beat everyone by being more conditioned than they were. I remember the first spring we put that offense in, man our defense hated it. They hated it more than we liked it. But, we all grew to love it.
"We love run blocking, but it got to the point where pass blocking and blocking for those screens were tons of fun because we were getting down the field in a hurry. We got to block for Damien Fletcher, who was such a great guy and he made us all look good. We took great pride in getting him and Tory Harrison to the end zone."
Hebert was fortunate enough to get to know Coach Hopson when he was with Bower before the change. He believes the athletic department did the right thing in bringing him back.
"Coach Hop is a great guy and a lot of guys will want to play for him," he said.
"He's a great recruiter because he's a true Southern Miss guy and he's a player's coach. They love him. He is going to have them fighting and playing hard every single game. No one gave us a chance to win the game against Kentucky in the second half, but if you wear the black and gold you are never out of a game. Coach Hop will do a great job, and I look forward to seeing them improve and make a run at this conference championship."
With Southern Miss heading to El Paso, Hebert gave his prediction for the upcoming conference opener.
"We are going to come out firing after letting one get away from us," he said. "Coach will have us ready to go, I'm saying 42-10 Southern Miss."