One Last Ride
Liam Ryan's recruiting visit to Pullman and Washington State University featured an unexpected twist.
"One of the first times I've seen snow, it definitely was a surprise for me," he recalled.
And it also featured something recognizable.
"All the hills reminded me of Chino Hills," Ryan said of his hometown in California.
"I felt really comfortable here. It felt like home."
Ryan has called Pullman and WSU home since 2016. He has played 33 games for the Cougars on the offensive line, dating back to his redshirt freshman season in 2017, including starting 30 consecutive games.
As he sits down after an August practice in preparation for the 2021 season, Ryan reflects on the time that has passed since his recruiting trip.
"There's been a lot of trials and tribulations," he said. "Two teammates passed away. I lost three close grandparents. That was definitely tough. That changes a person and changes perspective on life.
"It changes your perspective on a lot of things."
Ryan describes the past offseason as a "spiritual offseason" for him. And it started with a conversation with his priest.
"We went through my goals I wanted to have this season and it was all about football," Ryan said. "He said, 'I think a spiritual offseason would be big for you.' I really dove into it and really impacted my life and changed who I am now."
"You can see a calmness and peace about him," said offensive line coach Mark Weber. "Liam has done a very mature job of trying to improve and he's got a desire to be a whole person."
Ryan joins his offensive line teammate and roommate Abraham Lucas in their spiritual pursuits.
"Liam and I active in the faith together," said Lucas, who has started all 30 games in his WSU career. "It pulled us together and we stay active with our parish as much as we can. We've been able to grow in the faith even more."
Ryan is among a large group of seniors and super seniors on the roster. As one of the super seniors, Ryan had a decision to make when the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to student-athletes because of COVID.
"I wanted to keep my options open," said Ryan, who said he considered a graduate transfer as a possibility. Ultimately, he decided to remain and announced his decision on Instagram, stating in his message, "One Last Ride."
"All the other guys coming back helped make my decision to finish what I started here," Ryan said. "We all played around 30 plus games now. It is really easy to connect with guys you've been around with three and four years."
"It's very big that he wanted to come back, he wants to get better, and he helps the young players a ton," said Weber. "To have a leader and player like him be around for another year is very valuable for the program."
"He is the guy who sets the tone in regard to the offensive line," said Lucas.
Part of the tone Ryan has imparted to the younger members of the line is the calmness mantra.
While speaking to the media after practice earlier in August, Ryan shared that he told the younger members of the line to "not take things so serious."
"Try to preach it to the young guys, they do take a lot of things seriously," he said. "We tell them they are here for one thing: get a degree. We push that in our room. Get a degree first, then get to playing on the field. At the end of the day, it's all between your ears. It's not a whole lot of physical. 90 percent mental, 10 percent playing the game.
"We were once them," Ryan added of the younger players. "When we came in we had Cole Madison, Andre Dillard, Joe Dahl, a lot of veterans who knew what they were doing. They created a culture here."
One of the players Ryan keeps in touch with is Dillard, who played on the offensive line for the Cougars from 2014-18 and was the Philadelphia Eagles first round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft.
"I talk with Andre Dillard a lot, he helps me throughout," Ryan said. "He is at another level and has learned from vets who are in the NFL."
As he begins his final season of his career, Ryan intends to continue the lineage of the developing offensive line tradition.
"We want to be an offensive line school, too," Ryan said. "I think we are starting it."
"It's fun to see how important it is for Liam to keep that culture in the offensive line going and to pass it down," said Weber. "There's been a standard set and he will pass the legacy on."
In addition to the support from past players, Ryan, who earned his degree in criminal justice and is pursuing a social sciences degree, appreciates the support he receives from Cougars nationwide.
"You see somebody with the Cougar logo, they are family to you, whether you know or don't know them," Ryan said. "I think a lot of Coug Nation knows we support each other, through thick and thin."