After kicking a pair of game-winners at Big Ten programs and a pair of perfect bowl game appearances, EMU’s junior kicker is finally on scholarship.
Chad Ryland understood that this was the way it was going to have to be. A lot of kickers join their FBS programs as walk-ons, they’re not always offered scholarships out of high school. Ryland didn’t start kicking for Cedar Crest High School until his junior year, and didn’t get offered a spot on Eastern’s roster until after the 2018 early signing period.
As a walk-on freshman from Lebanon, Pa., Ryland beat a pair of upperclassmen for the starting placekicking job — Paulie Fricano and Jesse Kelly — and immediately came through in big moments.
In Week 2 of the 2018 season, Ryland came through with a pair of field goals, including a game-winner as time ran out, in miserable weather to beat Purdue on the road (20–19). Two weeks later, he hit a pair of field goals at San Diego State, and the second gave EMU a late 17–14 lead. (Eastern would lose the game, but Ryland can’t play every position.) The first kick Ryland had at the SDSU game was made from 51 yards out, which was a personal record for the young kicker.
“I had a career-long there, and I didn’t have any opportunity in high school to hit anything from 50-plus and was lucky enough to have the chance to hit one there and drain it,” Ryland told The Ypsilanti Eleven and other media members from his hometown in a Zoom call on Monday.
As a sophomore, Ryland hit another game-winner at another Big Ten school. This time, it was to take down Illinois 34–31, his second make of the game. In the 2018 Camellia Bowl and 2019 Quick Lane Bowl against Georgia Southern and Pitt respectively, Ryland was 3-for-3 in PATs in each bowl game, and made all three of his field goal tries at Ford Field.
Through 26 career games, Ryland is 26-for-39 on field goals with two makes from 50-plus yards out, and is 76-for-79 on PATs.
“Believe it or not, the bowl games, even though we lost both, I don’t think I’ve ever felt a connection to teammates after those games as much as I did,” Ryland said. “And I’m not a huge crier, and I was in tears after those games just with the bond I was able to make. So I think overall like the kicks are cool, hidden game-winners are cool, but the connections I’ve made here with my guys is for sure something I’ll never forget.”
Keeping things low-key
The thing about kickers is that they always keep their heads down. A loud celebration for all of Ryland’s hard work to turn into a full-ride scholarship would’ve been fun, but that’s not this kicker’s speed.
There was a team meeting on Sunday. After the meeting, EMU head coach Chris Creighton called Ryland over for an individual meeting with special teams coordinator Jay Nunez also in the room.
Creighton asked Ryland: “What’s are the specialists planning on doing now that the season’s been pushed?”
Ryland started telling his coach whatever he had to say, but was quickly interrupted.
“To be honest, I really don’t care. We’re putting you on full-ride.”
Ryland said he really appreciated that Creighton did this with a more one-on-one approach.
“I’m not in it for the fireworks and jumping out of an airplane presentation I think he knew that. There’s a bigger, bigger picture to it for me than the presentations,” he added. “Realistically, like I said, nothing changes on my end and my mental approach. If anything it lifts a little bit of weight off my shoulders for sure so I’m certainly thankful for that.”
Days after Ryland got his scholarship, The Ypsilanti Eleven spoke with Creighton to talk about a range of topics. On why Creighton gave Ryland the scholarship, he said he was impressed with the junior’s maturity.
“There’s a difference between an 18-year old-maturity just showing up and having been here for two full seasons-maturity,” Creighton said. “His focus, his desire to get better, those are all qualities that he posses at a high level that we want to be a part of our team. And, of course, he’s talented.
“Chad just firmly cemented in our minds that he’s our scholarship kicker.”
“Not too stressed”
Getting good news like this is quite the change of pace after getting bad news after bad news after bad news after some more bad news during the coronavirus pandemic. While the MAC made its move to postpone fall sports to the spring, Ryland’s taking the high road and doing his best to stay positive through it all.
“It’s definitely a bummer because I think all of us after we’ve been going hard for the last two weeks of practice in the last month or so of weight training and running,” Ryland said. “It was certainly a bummer for us no doubt. I think everybody can sort of relate to that who’s been itching for sports to come back and us as players I think are certainly, and myself.
“Yeah, it was certainly a bummer for sure but we know whatever they’re going to take care of us and whatever is in our best interest, they’ll, they’ll find a way to do the right thing and everything’s gonna work out how it’s supposed to work out either way so I’m not too stressed about it.”
On preparing for a spring of 2021, not a fall of 2020, football season to prepare for: “I see this as more time to get bigger, faster, stronger, and just ultimately perfect my craft. Hopefully, take this time to keep training. Train hard with the guys and, and just be ready for when it’s time to go. Whether that’s the spring next fall whenever it is, we’ll be ready we like to, we like to stay ready for sure. So, obviously, it’s not how we want things to play out. But, if that’s how it’s supposed to be, so be it. And when the time comes, we’re going to be ready to rock and roll.”