"We Walk" #2: DB Ryan Ballenger

Here is the second feature in The Bootleg's multi-part "We Walk" series profiling Stanford's impressive 2009 class of walk-on recruits, this time with a focus on multi-tool Ohio athlete Ryan Ballenger, who turned down multiple scholarship offers to come to Palo Alto and compete hard for a potential future ride. The Bootleg's Andy Drukarev caught up with Ballenger as he arrived in the Bay Area.

"We Walk": #2 DB/WR Ryan Ballenger

For your reading pleasure, we are proud to present the second feature in The Bootleg's "We Walk" series profiling Stanford's impressive 2009 class of well-credentialed walk-on recruits, this time with a focus on multi-tool Ohio athlete Ryan Ballenger.


A three-way player who starred in the defensive backfield, at wide receiver, and as a kicking specialist for his Lincoln High School team, Ballenger was also all-conference in track and drew heavy interest and offers from several Ivy League and MAC schools before deciding to head west and walk on at Stanford.


The first-team All-Ohio Capital Conference and All-Ohio Academic player began receiving college letters as early as his sophomore year of high school from Big Ten schools like Indiana and Wisconsin . Stanford didn't really begin to show a serious interest in Ballenger until the later parts of his senior season.


"They came to my school and talked to me and I think kind of sized me up," Ballenger said. "They wanted to see my film and then after Coach (D.J.) Durkin saw my film and talked to some of the other coaches they invited me on an 'official' visit."


Durkin also made multiple visits out to Ballenger's home in the Gahanna , Ohio area getting better acquainted with Ballenger and his family.


"He's the one that really got to know me personally," Ballenger said. "I can't remember how many times he came to my school, probably like five or six times within two months. He came to my house and also walked over to my mom's and talked to her. He just made my family and me feel good about coming out there."


Durkin and the rest of the Stanford coaching staff were so impressed by Ballenger's talents that they actually came very close to offering him a scholarship.


"They talked about offering me and they said it would come down to signing day," Ballenger said. "It would depend on whether or not some of the other guys they had already offered would accept."


As it turned out, Stanford did run out of scholarships, leaving Ballenger to decide if he liked the Cardinal enough to turn down offers from four high-quality programs.


"It came down to Harvard, Princeton , Toledo , and Stanford," Ballenger said. "I had offers from [those schools and Miami ( Ohio) ] and ended up deciding on Stanford."


In the end, it really wasn't that difficult of a decision for Ballenger to make. As soon as he passed through the school's admissions process, Ballenger knew that he would commit to the Cardinal, even if he didn't pick up a scholarship offer.


"As soon I got that Stanford acceptance letter it was confirmation that I knew I was coming here, and scholarship or not, I knew next fall that I'd be out here playing," said Ballenger, whose academic qualifications have to rank among the finest of any 2009 Stanford Football recruit with a 33 ACT, 2130 SAT , and 4.2 GPA.


While it would have been easy for Ballenger to feel slighted or hurt that he didn't get offered, he instead made the choice to focus on the opportunities he will have to contribute to the success of the Cardinal football team and earn a scholarship over time.


"I wouldn't consider it disappointing," Ballenger said. "Once I got accepted into Stanford I knew, scholarship or not, I was coming. Basically I just wanted to get in and, once I got in, I was happy as can be and confident that I am good enough that I will earn a scholarship soon."


In the early stages of his recruitment, however, Ballenger had quite a different attitude about his football future. He seemed content with going to an Ivy League school, getting a great education, and continuing his football career for a non- BCS school.


"My sophomore and junior year I really wanted to go to an Ivy League school like Harvard or Princeton and I went to their football camps [and picked up offers after each camp session,]" Ballenger said.


But in early in his senior season, Ballenger's mentality changed. In a late-September game against Ohio powerhouse Pickering Central High School , Ballenger more than held his own against a pair of highly rated 2009 recruits in four-star Ohio State safety commit Jamie Wood and three-star Michigan State wide receiver commit Patrick White. Even though his Lincoln High School team ended up losing 38-7, Ballenger had acquired new-found confidence in his football talents.


"When I played them I felt like I was step-for-step with them in terms of speed and athleticism and I think that encouraged me to not just settle for Harvard or the other Ivy Leagues, but to go to the Pac-10," Ballenger said. "I felt like I could really play with the best."


Judging by how close Stanford came to offering Ballenger a full-ride up front, the Cardinal coaches seem to agree with that assessment.


"When they talk to me they seemed very optimistic about me playing," Ballenger said. "They tell me I'm not going to be given less of a chance because I'm a 'walk-on'. If I can run and hit as hard as 'scholarship guys' then I'm going to be on the field instead of them. It's going to be equal opportunity and no bias. Whoever earns the position is going to play."


Ballenger, who thinks that he will likely end up making a contribution at either safety or wide receiver, said that his strengths lie in his combination of outstanding size and athleticism.


"I would say the reason they recruited me was for my size," Ballenger, who reports a 4.55 forty-yard dash and a 34-inch vertical leap, said. "I think I have a good frame to put weight on and I was pretty fast in high school. I also have good speed for a defensive back my size."


And soon, Ballenger will get a chance to give the Stanford coaching staff a firsthand view of those talents. Later this week, the heralded 2009 group of walk-ons will arrive on campus for the start of fall practice.


Naturally, Ballenger said he feels excited about starting his college football career, but is also somewhat saddened to leave behind his friends and family.


"I guess I'm just sad to leave all my friends and family back home," Ballenger said. "At the same time, I'm excited for this opportunity to come play football at a Pac-10 school and have the chance to earn a degree as reputable as one from Stanford."


Ballenger's mother, Nancy, echoed her son's excitement about playing football for a school as prestigious as Stanford, but also expressed sadness with the prospect of missing out on her son's athletic accomplishments.


"Well we're obviously very excited about the choice," Nancy said. "Also a little scared obviously. It's across the country from us in Ohio and I guess the tough part about not being close by is that it will be a long distance viewing, so to speak, of his athletic activities. We're used to being on the sidelines – [we've been there] for 18 years."


Ryan does take some comfort in knowing that after a few days of grueling practice sessions, he will likely begin to form bonds with many of the other Cardinal football players.


"I am a little worried [about being homesick], but I know I'll be around the football team so much that we'll become close friends, almost family," Ballenger said. "It will kind of be like my home-away-from-home. I know I'm going to make good friends and be all right [now!] with the football team."

Editor's Bonus Notes: 

      Ryan Ballenger Highlights on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liMvgg7Gg3I
      Be sure to note the exceptional closing speed #7 demonstrates on defense. Gets to the ball very well...but not quite well enough to justify asking for the #7 jersey on his new team when he reports on Saturday. That one is taken. 

      In Electronic Arts's NCAA 2010 video game, Ballenger is apparently portrayed as being, how shall we say, an athlete of color. Reminds us of a funny story about another fast Stanford WR recruit of "lighter complexion" in the mid-80s by the name of Spencer Cotten, an old buddy of The Bootleg's. Anyone out there remember that one?

      To make Booties ponder the painful passage of pigskin time. young Mr. Ballenger was born on October 10, 1990, four days after "Touchdown Tommy" Vardell rushed for four scores in the Cardinal's world-shocking 36-31 upset of top-ranked Notre Dame in South Bend, a rousing victory that spawned the classic headline in The National: "STUN-FORD!".

      ....oh, and in case you were wondering, the Cardinal's lovable lunatic defensive lineman from the late-70s/early-80s out of Camarillo, Calif., Steve Ballinger, spells his last name with an "i".

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