In high school, I played many roles for my team. From captain to gap filler, I was willing to do whatever was asked of me. I went from playing for a CIF championship my junior year at outside linebacker to leading the sixth-ranked high school football team in the nation my senior year at middle linebacker. I also played on all of our special team units and even a little on offense for run blocking purposes both years. To my coaches, I was the player they called for just about every situation.
With the end of my senior year, I was awarded a scholar athlete award and Co-Defensive MVP of my county. This gave me the opportunity to participate in another high school all-star game where I played against the best players in southern California. From high school, I signed to play for the United States Naval Academy. I chose the Naval Academy because I was looking for a challenge. I believe that you do not know what you are capable of until you fail. But in that failure, I then have set a bar that I can improve on and overcome that failure.
The Naval Academy not only posed a challenge in football, being a Division I program but also academically, being a consistently top rated university in America. I also always felt compelled to serve my country. I constantly reflected on the freedoms that we have in the United States of America and wanted to serve my country to give back for all my country has given me.
Before I arrived to play for the Naval Academy, I attended the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS). Not living at home was a pretty scary thought and I wanted to give myself the opportunity to adapt to living away from home for a long time and also be able to balance school, football, and the military at the same time. NAPS prepared me for the stresses that I have experienced at the Naval Academy and will experience in my career of naval service.
While at NAPS, I quickly found out that there were many players around the country that were equal or even exceeded my abilities on the field. But what set me apart from most other players was my effort. No matter what the case may have been, whether they were bigger, stronger, faster, they could not “out-hustle” me. Playing for the NAPS football team was an amazing opportunity because everyone had little to no experience with the defense so everyone was on the same level.
My freshman year at the United States Naval Academy was a different story. After my second military indoctrination period, I went into football camp excited to earn a spot on the travel team. For the most part, I was successful and earned a starting position on the Kickoff Cover team. It wasn’t until the conclusion of camp that I found out that I was no longer on the travel team because I had not been high enough on the depth chart for inside linebacker and it was not enough to travel me due to only one special team. I didn’t quite fit the role.
I then served as a scout team player for the remainder of the football season. To say the least, my freshmen year was a humbling experience after coming from the success I had in high school. I did learn two important lessons from it that have helped me in football as well as in life.
First, no matter what you do, always put your best foot forward. It doesn’t matter what your role is, whether you are the captain of the defense, strictly a special teams player, or a scout team player, everyone has a role to play in order for the team to be successful. When your coach asks you to do a job, be confident that they have put their trust in you and your ability to succeed in that job. When everyone succeeds in their job is when the whole team can be successful because it’s not the name on the back of the jersey that wins the game, it’s the one on the front.
Second, never sell yourself short. There are going to be times where you come up short but you can’t get down on yourself. You can succeed in anything you put your mind to but you have to dedicate your time and effort in becoming better. Always believe in yourself that you can overcome the obstacle ahead of you and work hard to make your belief a reality.
This year, I start on Kickoff, Kickoff Return, Punt and Punt Return and I am a backup linebacker. Some people do not recognize the importance of special teams and the fact the whole momentum of a game can change in one of those plays. The same attitude that you may go with into offense or defense, should be used for special teams.
One thing that is overlooked is film study for special teams but you are able to get a real jump on your opponent if you can recognize tendencies before the game has even started. You can get good enough at film study that you can actually predict where the ball will be run on kickoff or know exactly what move to use to beat your man off the line for punt.
No matter what position you are in, your attitude correlates to how well you play. You can only play your best with your best foot forward.
Ryan Harris | Contributor