Some people just can’t stay away too long.
For Penn tight ends coach Ryan Becker, football wasn’t always an obvious career choice. However, it didn’t take long for him to discover his talent.
“Growing up I used to play football in the street with my friends, but I was always a basketball player first,” Becker said, “Ultimately, football was the sport I became the better player at. I was blessed to have a great high school career, with great teammates, so after a season or two, I started thinking it was a possibility [to play in college].”
As a player, Becker did not have a usual path. He was all set to join the Red and Blue right after high school, but he had to postpone his time in Philadelphia due to financial issues, enrolling at Florida State instead. After one year, however, Becker was finally able to transfer to Penn, where he played 25 games and was on two Ivy League title-winning teams.
Ironically, Becker believes his most important season as a Quaker was the one when he was injured — despite finding great success on the field.
“When I got hurt, I was also able to build bonds with the coaches. I was constantly helping out. In practice I was with [coach Ray] Priore, and then on game days, I was with the offensive staff,” Becker said, “I was able to figure out the impact I could have on my teammates and the other quarterbacks, even though we were competing. I could talk to them and tell them what we were seeing from upstairs. It was a passion for me, and I knew I wanted to get in it right away.”
His coaching abilities were also very noticeable to the rest of the team.
“He was a very intelligent quarterback, and he understood the game a little different than anybody else,” Priore said, “He had those instincts as a player that would make great attributes as a coach. He would come in everyday with the same focus and passion."
Following his graduation from Wharton in 2013, Becker received an offer to rejoin the Seminoles and headed back to Florida State as a graduate assistant coach. During his three years there, Florida State went 33-7 and won the 2016 Orange Bowl. In 2017, Becker decided to return to Philadelphia, working as an Assistant Director of Operations for the Quakers.
Last season, he moved once again and accepted the opportunity to work as a tight ends coach for East Tennessee State.
“Even though my heart was here at Penn, it was an amazing opportunity,” Becker said, “And I was always told that if you know how to coach quarterbacks and the offensive line, you can figure the rest out. I teach the tight ends how to block and run routes like receivers, so I use my past knowledge to explain it to them what the quarterback sees."
However, his time with the Buccaneers ended quickly. Viewing Penn as a second home, Becker couldn’t pass up the chance to return.
“I had a phenomenal time at East Tennessee State, but there’s Red and Blue in my blood,” Becker said, “It’s hard for me to think of a better place to be, especially with the amazing coaching staff and my wife being here. It was a no-brainer to come back.”
Becker’s wife also could not stay away from the Red and Blue after graduating. Since 2015, Kirsten Strausbaugh has served as an assistant coach for Penn gymnastics and has played a key role in Becker’s coaching success.
“She worked in Tallahassee for a year, but one of her lifelong goals was to come back and coach gymnastics. It was hard being away from her, but that’s her passion and I admire her a lot for that,” Becker said. “I learn schemes and tactics from other coaches, but I learned how to talk to people and get the best out of an athlete from my wife. She’s easily one of the best coaches I’ve ever seen.”
His passion for the Quakers and his previous experience as a player have also helped him connect to current players as well.
“It means something to have alumni on staff because I was in their shoes a few years ago,” Becker said. “I know the goods and bads that come with Penn, and we can help the players through the hard times. We understand the stress the kids can be under and how to back off or push harder when they need.”
As far as expectations go, Becker doesn't worry about the number of wins and losses. For him, it’s all about encouraging the players to give their best on the field.
“Wins start piling up as soon as you start understanding your assignments and doing your work to the best of your ability,” Becker said, “If you play the Philadelphia Eagles, for example, and you play the best game of your life, you still might lose but you can still be proud of what you did. That’s what really matters to me.”
With nine games left in the season, the Quakers still have a long way to go if they want to bring home the conference title. Nonetheless, Becker knows what it takes to win a championship — and most importantly, he has a genuine passion for the Red and Blue.