LenDale White can plow through any group of two, three, or fifty defenders like it's nobody's business. But even he hasn't been physically tested the way this guy has.
Brandon and Ryan Ting are sitting on the team's highest GPAs. But even they don't have the 4.0 that this guy's carrying.
Meet Ryan Davidson, the real MVP of the Two-Time Defending National Champion USC Trojan Football Team.
Standing 4-feet 7-inches tall and weighing in at 61 pounds, the 12-year old honorary offensive lineman with his diminutive stature doesn't exactly fit the same physical mold you'd expect to find in a college football MVP.
Just ask his teammates.
"He's stronger than all of us," says All-American punter Tom Malone.
"If we all had a heart like Ryan's, we'd all be champions," states fellow offensive lineman Deuce Lutui.
"Chip McPlank," as Ryan has been nicknamed by the Offensive Line, joined the team just before the Cal game last year.
The coaches didn't need to see any videotape, didn't need to look at any statistics before making him part of the team. And why would they?
USC's finest football players can manhandle 300-pound offensive linemen on their way to making punishing quarterback sacks. They can blow past corners like the wind on wheel routes into the endzone. They can complete 50-yard passes with pinpoint accuracy, all the while evading heavy defensive pressure.
But have any of them fought through cancer?...Twice?...Before turning twelve?
Ryan's first brain tumor came when he was six years old. The Make-A-Wish Foundation "Wish Child" underwent major brain surgery back then, and was put on radiation for six weeks before he was pronounced cancer-free. He was in remission for nearly five years when the brain tumor returned in May 2004. So he underwent major brain surgery for a second time. Again the tumor was completely taken out.
Ryan was put on chemotherapy after his last surgery, and has remained on the treatment for roughly 16 months now. He continues to fight off cancer, taking up to seven pills per day, getting MRIs every three months and blood labs every six weeks, and going through every motion that any good player would to protect himself.
After his last surgery, Ryan lost strength in his left hand. He has since been regularly on physical therapy. And slowly but surely, he is gaining back the strength in his hand.
His family believes he will make a full recovery. "It's hard not to be confident because [Ryan] is so confident he will get through this," says Ryan's 15-year old big sister, Mallory.
"The whole slogan of ‘Fight on!' has a lot of meaning to Ryan," notes his father, Kirby.
Ryan's ties to USC, despite living most of his life in Wisconsin, stem in part from the fact that his father's cousin, Bruce Sweeney, was a former Trojan tight end in the 1970s. When Ryan started to learn about football, Carson Palmer was winning the Heisman Trophy and leading the Trojans past Iowa in the 2003 Orange Bowl.
When Ryan's cancer returned in 2004, his one wish was to see a USC Football game at the Coliseum, and in particular, see the USC-Cal game.
In what could be described as the football equivalent to "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," thanks to USC Board of Directors member Jim Phillips, the USC Administration, and the USC Athletic Department, Ryan was flown down for the Cal game, taken to team meetings and practice the day before with Trojan Head Coach Pete Carroll as his host, brought into the locker room right after the victory over Cal, and sent home with autographs, pictures, USC merchandise, and priceless memorabilia from the players themselves.
And while the Defensive Line is credited with being the MVP of the USC-Cal game, it was Ryan who the team dedicated the game to in the first place. It was Ryan who the team took inspiration from through four quarters of hard fought football against a formidable opponent.
Ryan was reunited with the Football Team in Miami this past January, as his whole family was flown in for the Orange Bowl, where he was again given VIP treatment and an unforgettable experience.
Two games and two victories later, Carroll has dubbed Ryan the team's "good luck charm," as in, the Trojans haven't lost any game that Ryan has seen in person. Meanwhile, according to his sister, Ryan now flashes the victory sign in every picture he takes, and even named the recent Relay for Life team he took part in, "Team Trojan."
About to enter the seventh grade at Prairie View Middle School, Ryan lives a relatively normal life. He's a straight "A" student (not even one A-minus), whose favorite subject is math. He's an aspiring actor who is involved in the school's drama program as well as Logos, an after school Christian-based youth organization, for which his mother, Amy, works as the Director of Christian Education. He likes playing Medal of Honor and NCAA Football on his Nintendo Game Cube. And as a member of the USC Offensive Line, his favorite food is "steak, of course."
While Ryan is a naturally shy person when talking about himself, his tone perks up when talking about his team.
When asked about his prediction last season that the USC-Oklahoma game would be close, Ryan admits he was being deliberately conservative, and "didn't want to scare off Oklahoma" before the game started.
On Matt Leinart staying in school, Ryan agrees with the decision, and is "very glad" to see his favorite player returning.
Leinart has continued to keep in touch with Ryan, and he even sent him an autographed miniature Heisman Trophy football this past spring, addressed to "the bravest boy I know." Kirby is quick to add that many other members of the team have continued to keep in touch with Ryan as well.
On his bond with the Offensive Line, Ryan says he wants to take the DNA from the envelopes of the letters they have all sent him so that he can clone his own personal set.
What does Ryan Kalil have to say about that? "It's so humbling that we can touch his life just by playing a game. We love him, and we hope to see him again."
Kalil won't have to wait too long for "Chip" to rejoin his fellow offensive linemen, because Ryan and his family will be in attendance at the USC-UCLA game this December. Rest assured, Ryan already knows the "real" lyrics to the Spirit of Troy's rendition of "Tusk."
What about the Trojans' chances at three-peating? The team's good luck charm is quick to predict, "We will win again."
As they gear up for a run at an unprecedented third consecutive National Championship, the USC Football Team, and all of us in general, can learn a lesson from the team's real MVP, who has adopted as his life's motto simply:
Editor's Note: The Davidson Family recently set up email address, specifically for the purpose of allowing anyone who wishes to send Ryan messages, share stories or provide words of encouragement. This email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fight On Ryan!