Every recruit’s path to college is unique, so Ryan Ramczyk doesn’t see his story as being any different from anyone else.
Never mind the fact that the former Wisconsin-Stevens Point standout, who thought about becoming a welder after he was done playing football, has received countless accolades and All-American honors bestowed upon him after only 13 games of football.
As surprised as outsiders are of Ramczyk’s quick rise in the college football game, the 6-6, 314-pound tackle expected to be the anchor of the team’s young offensive line.
“I wanted to come in here, be an All-American, be the best player in football, best offensive lineman and it’s been an incredible experience,” Ramczyk said. “To be able to be an All-American, it’s pretty special.”
Wisconsin has played one of the more demanding schedules in the country, which will continue on Monday against undefeated No.12 Western Michigan – UW’s seventh AP top 12 opponent this season – in the 81st Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium, but Ramczyk hasn’t missed a beat.
Going against eight top 50 rush defenses this season, Wisconsin has rushed for at least 150 yards against six of them, including 236 yards against Ohio State and 210 against Minnesota (those two schools are currently tied for 14th with 117.8 rushing yards per game).
After being held to 71 yards against Michigan, dropping the Badgers to 1-2 in conference play, Wisconsin topped 200 rushing yards in six of its last eight games.
“The big thing with Ryan, you saw some things that he did naturally, and athleticism that he was blessed with,” offensive coordinator/line coach Joe Rudolph said. “Then it was just teaching the offense. Once you get down the basics, then it becomes a communication and awareness. Those are the areas where’s he’s made the most growth and probably the areas where you continue to grow. He’s seeing more of the game, he’s more confident and more comfortable.
“Obviously I’ve loved how he’s worked all year and I’m excited about him.”
Since the announcement of the Cotton Bowl bid, the main topic of Ramczyk’s media sessions has been about his upcoming N.F.L. decision.
A first-team All-American by the Associated Press after his first season of division 1 football, Ramczyk has been rated by some draft experts as the No.2 offensive tackle in the draft and was even projected to be a top-10 pick by Pro Football Focus. He told reporters Friday that he received a first round grade from the N.F.L. advisory committee.
“I’ve been talking to my family and Coach Chryst and Coach Rudolph about it, but right now it’s really just focusing on the bowl game and winning that game,” Ramczyk said. “It’s a little hectic, but you’ve got to take it day by day and see what the day brings you.”
It makes sense for him to declare for the draft but there’s also drawbacks. Ramczyk confirmed a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel report that he has a hip injury but declined to confirm whether it is a torn labrum or if he will undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair it after the bowl game.
Surgery could knock Ramczyk out up to four months, which would prevent him from working on for N.F.L. teams at the combine, Wisconsin’s pro day or any individual workouts.
While other players with high-profile draft stock have decided to skip the bowl game to focus on their health, Ramczyk never considered the option, especially since he’s played with the injury for the majority of the season.
“I’m healthy enough to play; I’ve been healthy enough to play all season,” he said, saying it’s a bone impinging on his hip. “It’s a thing that’s just annoying.”
He has until Jan.16 to declare for the draft. Rudolph said he and the staff have met with Ramczyk and his parents to present all the information they have that’s generated from scouts, general managers, N.F.L. executives and offensive line coaches to get an unbiased feel for his future.
“I think you try and explain the positives and the negatives for a general person, maybe an offensive lineman, and then you explain the positives and the negatives for him as an individual,” Rudolph said. “I think the communication has been terrific. He’s got a great head on his shoulders and his mom and dad are right there with him working through things, so (I) believe that he will make the best decision.”
No matter the decision, Ramczyk’s presence and success was sorely needed for Wisconsin. After the Badgers trotted out seven different offensive line combinations in 2015, UW was thrown more curve balls in the first two months of the season.
Center Dan Voltz, the only senior on the projected line, retired from football during training camp because of injuries. That caused sophomore Michael Dieter, the next most reliable linemen with 13 career starts, to slide over from left guard. When the injury bug bit left guard Jon Dietzen and Micah Kapoi in September, the Badgers had to use three different starting combinations in four games.
The only constant for Wisconsin was Ramczyk starting at left tackle, allowing the Badgers to start racking up wins to get them into their sixth January bowl game in the last seven years.
“My mindset coming from UWSP was to be the best player I could be, be the best player in college,” Ramczyk said. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”