Quiet and reverent, Kris Ryan is posting one of the best seasons in Penn history. It's first-and-10. The Dartmouth defense is stacking the box. Kris Ryan -- all 6'0" and 235 pounds of him -- takes Gavin Hoffman's handoff off guard and bursts through the line like a runaway train. All he sees before him is 48 yards of electric green Franklin Field turf. And the end zone. Ryan scores his first collegiate touchdown. He takes one knee, bows his head and says, "God, thank you." · 1 Peter 5:7 -- Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares about you. · That's Ryan's favorite passage. Before the Dartmouth game, Ryan was a wreck. In fact, before every game, Ryan is a mess of anxiety and nerves. "I've always been notorious for getting really nervous before games, I have butterflies and I start getting sick," Ryan said. "[1 Peter is] a really good passage for me, to know that He's in control of the game and I really don't have anything to worry about, just go have fun." Ryan played both ways at Northgate High School in Pittsburgh, winning All-Conference honors at running back and middle linebacker. He made just about every special teams tackle last year as a freshman at Penn. This year he emerged as the starting tailback and turned in one of the single greatest rushing performances in Penn football's 123-year history. And he still gets nervous. "Initially, I was a mess going into camp," Ryan said. "I had never been away from home for a long period of time. It was a little scary coming from a small school. "But football is football. Once you get that first hit, it's business as usual." Until that first hit, though, Ryan depends on his Ritual. Ryan rolls into the locker room with headphones on, listening to the Christian rap group Cross Movement. He gets taped, and then starts reading the Bible. He flips through it, not looking for any one passage in particular, but waiting for God to put one in his heart. He prays, and is content, because he knows the game is in God's hands. Ryan has cast all his anxieties unto Him, and He will take care of the rest. · Matthew 5:5 -- Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. · Ryan moved around a lot during his childhood; he was born in Edison, N.J., and finally settled with his mother in McKeesport, just outside of Pittsburgh, when he was six years old. A previous stint in Virginia made him a Redskins fan, and a love for football made him a Walter Payton fan. At a very early age, Ryan decided football was going to be an important part of his life. "In elementary school, I was very artistic," Ryan said. "I liked to draw a lot, and I'd always draw my football cards -- different teams I was playing for and the stats on the back." There in the back of the classroom, while the other kids were raising hell, little Kris Ryan was quietly hatching a dream. In some ways, he hasn't changed all that much. "He's a quiet kid," Penn captain Carmelo Rubano said. "He's friendly with everyone. He's not really that loud or that wild. He just stays to himself a little bit. He's a little shy, you could say." Penn coach Al Bagnoli said that Ryan is the kind of player every coach loves. "[He's] very humble, keeps a very even keel," Bagnoli said. "He certainly has a very good disposition. He really does not think overly much of himself, doesn't boast." He just scores touchdowns -- and thanks God. · Romans 14:7-8 -- We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. · After a string of bad experiences, Ryan's mother, Kim Batch, moved her family out of McKeesport and up to Pittsburgh's North Side. "She had always had sort of a relationship with God, but wasn't close to God," Ryan said. "She started going to a church just to see what it was like. "She became saved, and just watching her and the people around me, then I became saved. It's really just gone from there." Ryan was 13 years old when he was baptized, when he put his life in God's hands. From that moment forward, everything he did, he did for the glory of God, an attitude that has continued into his college career. "A lot of people think [religion in sports] is just a cliche and people just say it to say it, but he really means it," said teammate Dave Kiehn. "God's really working miracles in his life every day." And once Ryan got to Penn, God called on him right away. With Roy Aneed and Pat Altman not playing on the team this season, Ryan and fullback Kiehn assumed the leadership of the team Bible study group. "Trying to do some work for God, trying to further His Kingdom has brought us closer together," Ryan said. "If we see something that catches our eye, or God puts something in our hearts, we want to present it to everybody. We encourage people to go home and read their Bible, so if they see something, we can discuss it." The study group does not only discuss the Bible, but also real life -- in particular, the temptation to stray from a faithful Christian lifestyle at college. "Sometimes it gets difficult, especially being an athlete, because you're a lot more open to attack when you're an athlete," Ryan said. "The girls are everywhere, and the drinking and drugs are everywhere. A lot of times, you slip up. "The good thing is that God forgives, and the second thing is you just have to remain focused and understand that all this stuff is not you, this isn't what you need to be." While prayer circles after games and kneeling after touchdowns is becoming a more common occurrence in college and professional football, at Penn it remains a bit of a novelty. "I think it happens, some people just do it more discretely than others," Rubano said. "Kris is very religious. Before games, he's praying, reading his Bible. It's not awkward to see him do it, so Praise the Lord, I guess." Ryan takes the rarity of religious display in Penn athletics as a challenge from God. "This is funny -- a lot of people are a lot closer to God than people think," he said. "A lot of people know a lot more but they don't really show it. And a lot of times, God puts people in positions like myself where if they see me doing it, they're like, 'Oh, it's OK to do that.' "I think that's one of the reasons I'm here -- so I can be an example to other people that it's all right to live for God in everything that you do." · Exodus 20:12 -- Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. · In different phases of his life, family has meant different things to Ryan. There was a couple-year period where Ryan himself had to be man of the house, but that didn't bother him. "There was a while there when my mom was single, I had to take care of my sister," Ryan said. "Thinking back on it, it might have been difficult, but at the time it was just what I had to do." Ryan's stepfather filled the gap for Ryan and his family. "He played high school ball, and he's also been there," Ryan said. "He was someone I looked up to. When I saw his old scrapbooks, when he was in high school running for 250 yards a game, I said I want to be like that." · 1 Corinthians 10:31 -- So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. · Ryan does not know whether his childhood dreams of pro ball will pan out. But he isn't really worried either. It's in God's hands. "God gives you opportunities to do different things, and I believe this, if you're good enough to go to the NFL you'll be seen and you'll be in contact," he said. As for a fallback in case the NFL does not come knocking? "I have no idea. I'm taking it a day at a time," Ryan said. "Gotta get those papers done, you know what I mean? Get the papers done, and then we'll see." Naturally Ryan thinks about heeding the call to ministry, furthering God's Kingdom for a living. "My mom talks about it all the time; I think that'd be something she'd like to see," Ryan said. "It's also in the back of my mind. It's in God's hands." In his 19 years on Earth, Ryan has done a lifetime's worth of living. But he cherishes his life experience as a divine gift. "What you go through determines who you are," Ryan said. "Everything happens for a reason. God makes you go through certain things to make you who you're going to be." Kris Ryan's future is certainly uncertain. The NFL remains a very real possibility for Ryan, who needs to average 147 yards a game the rest of the season to break Penn's single-season rushing record -- as a sophomore. The only thing that is certain is that Kris Ryan will continue to find the Franklin Field end zones on a regular basis. And he will continue to take one knee, bow his head and pray. And Penn fans will join Ryan in saying, "God, thank you."Comments powered by Disqus
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