At some point, every sports fan has some form of the same dream. Play quarterback in the NFL. Roam centerfield in the Majors. Splash 3-pointers in the NBA. Whack forehands at Wimbledon.
Along the way, most of us realize we peaked as kids. There's no hope of climbing that mountain or ever coming close, though on certain days and for fleeting moments... Nah, not happening.
That comprehension often comes early in life. For true romantics or delusional souls, perhaps a decade or two later.
For others, the dream turns into reality. Whether they stormed the courts as prodigies or developed their craft over time, a moment occurred when thoughts shifted. When they recognized they might be different. This series of interviews with local professional athletes, which began with Washington Redskins tackle Trent Williams, focuses on that moment.
Next up, Washington Redskins linebacker, four-time Pro Bowl selection, and Indiana native Ryan Kerrigan.
I was bigger than a lot of other kids growing up, but we had some big sized guys in my school. I was always passionate about sports. In high school, I started to develop a little bit.
I thought (playing in) college was possible. After my junior year (at Muncie Central High School), my high school coach put together a tape and started sending it out to schools. That spring I got my first offer from Purdue. Getting that scholarship offer, getting that letter from (Purdue head coach) Joe Tiller, I still remember. It was pretty crazy. I grew up in Big Ten country. Getting an offer from a Big Ten school and realizing I could be playing in those stadiums was pretty crazy.
I think my (high school coach) thought I had the size. I was 6-foot-3, 220 pounds or so, and was good at tight end and defensive end, so he thought, either way, I could play at the Big Ten level. I had a guy at my high school earlier who went on to be a tight end at the University of Illinois. I guess [my coach] saw a lot of me in him. That’s when he put together the tape and sent it out.
When I got to Purdue, the first training camp was so hard I wasn’t sure I could do this. I was calling home and saying this is really hard, but my parents said to stay. Once training camp is over, you’ll start school, and it will be alright. They were right.
(Entering Purdue) I planned to be a math teacher and high school football coach. That was the plan. I liked Algebra. I liked math because you got a formula and found a solution. It wasn’t a lot of subjectivity to it. It was very objective. I liked that.
After my sophomore season at Purdue (seven sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss) is when I was like, OK, maybe I can [make the NFL]. I started seeing guys that I was on the team with, in the D-line room with getting drafted. We had a guy (Alex Magee) a couple of years ahead of me drafted in the third round. I was like if he can get drafted, why can’t I? I really started working with that mindset going forward. The following year we had a guy (Mike Neal) from the D-Line room drafted in the second round. I kept up the same mindset, why can’t I get drafted?
(You finished with 33.5 sacks at Purdue and were the 16th overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, but when did you truly know you could compete on the NFL level?)
I would say throughout my first training camp, going against the starters, I could hang. It’s tough. Every practice is tougher than some college games I played in, but I can do this thing. I can compete with these guys.
It’s still pretty crazy to me. Even when I went to college on a football scholarship at a Big Ten school, I went there with a mindset of I’m going to play four years, get my degree and go out and start working. For things to evolve the way they have –it’s been a crazy journey. It’s been really fun, and I’m really fortunate to have this.
The transcript was edited for length and clarity.
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