Greatness Part of Ryan’s DNA

Playing football is the "Ryan Way," rookie linebacker Jake Ryan said, starting with his Ohio Supreme Court grandfather.

Photo by Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY

Mike McCarthy and Eliot Wolf went out of their way to say there wasn’t a dire need for Jake Ryan to play right away.

If they were trying to take the pressure off of their fourth-round inside linebacker, that’s probably unnecessary.

Ryan knows pressure. Replacing longtime starter A.J. Hawk should be child’s play from a pressure perspective.

His grandfather, Francis Sweeney, played collegiately at Xavier and had a brief career in the CFL. Following football, he worked his way through law school and eventually served 12 years on the Ohio Supreme Court.

His father, Tim Ryan, played receiver for four seasons at Wake Forest. He caught 111 passes for 1,591 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career — good for 11th in school history in touchdowns and 12th in yards.

All of that pedigree “absolutely” helped shape Ryan, he said in an interview before the draft.

“You know, just playing the game of football is the Ryan Way,” Ryan said. “Everyone does it. Everyone’s been successful with it. I didn’t really feel any pressure going to the next level but I always wanted to get there and that was my goal.”

The “Ryan Way” started early. He was one of four brothers, and they pushed each other to greatness. Two brothers played for Ball State. Older brother Connor, a receiver, was a two-year captain who caught 78 passes in his career. Younger brother Zack, a linebacker, has gone from walk-on to potential four-year starter. He had 92 tackles as a freshman in 2013 and 91 as a sophomore in 2014.

“It was a lot of sports, a lot of being outside, being with my brothers, being with my family. All three of my brothers, we were all brothers,” Ryan said with a laugh. “We got in trouble, we got into everything. We played backyard football, baseball. You name it, we were doing it. Just being around them and having three brothers to do all of those things with was awesome. ... There were times when we were best friends and there were times we were always fighting. That’s how four brothers are going to be. That’s what it’s going to be like.”

All of that molded Ryan into the player and man he’d become.

On the field, Ryan was a four-year starter who as a senior was a finalist for the Butkus Award, which goes to the nation’s top linebacker. His 45.5 career tackles for losses ranked third among all active players following the 2014 season.

Off the field, he was just as impressive. As just a sophomore, he was given jersey No. 47, which was worn by Michigan legend Benny Oosterbaan, a three-year All-American in football who earned nine letters in football, basketball and baseball during the late 1920s.

Coming off second-team all-Big Ten accolades, even bigger things were expected as a junior. However, during spring practice, he tore his ACL. For a player with obvious pro aspirations, it would have been easy — and perhaps even logical — for Ryan to sit out the season for his own personal welfare. Instead, Ryan was back in action on Oct. 12 — just six-and-a-half months after the injury.

Ryan seemed dumbfounded when asked if he considered sitting out the season.

“It’s tough watching the game that you love from the sideline,” he said. “It’s hard watching guys do what you love to do. I just wanted to get through it as fast as I could and come out as strong as I was before. I just wanted to get back out there for my teammates.”

His teammates noticed. Ryan was voted a team captain. That’s impressive for a junior — and even more impressive since he was rehabbing the injury rather than practicing and playing.

“You’ve got to be tough, hard-nosed and you’ve got to know the game and you’ve got to tell people what they’re doing wrong, especially if you’re a leader on the team and you’re an older guy,” Ryan said. “Just taking everything that I did over the past years and what I’ve learned from so many guys on the team has been tremendous and is definitely going to help me throughout my whole life.”

All of those things factored into Ted Thompson’s decision to select Ryan — and why the team had Ryan ranked ahead of some more touted prospects.

“Really like Jake,” McCarthy said on Saturday. “You look at his background: Captain of the football team, productive, very consistent. He definitely fits what you look for in the core of your football team. A young man that has the reputation of being the same guy every single day. I think he has the ability to play on all four downs. I think that’s the highest compliment you can give to a player.”

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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