By Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor Photos: Geoff Schneider/Sports Union
There is something about the South Buffalo community that just treats everyone like family. It doesn’t matter if you have lived there your entire life, or are just visiting, the South Buffalo community is one of a kind.
Bishop Timon High School has been a mainstay of that community for more than 60 years. It has graduated some of the finest young men in Western New York. It’s sports teams have always been near the top of the Monsignor Martin - battling the likes of St. Francis, Canisius and St. Joe’s.
The pride of Timon was always the football. Legendary coach Paul Fitzpatrick had the machine running. The Tigers never had the biggest squads, but they had the most heart. Fitz would get everything out of the “Tough” South Buffalo boys.
The program has fallen on hard times recently, but athletics director, and football coach, Joe Licata has been building the program up again. It has taken time to get the talent back in the school.
One of those talented players on the Timon roster is receiver Sullivan O’Dell-Ryan. O’Dell-Ryan isn’t your typical South Buffalo kid, in fact he isn’t from South Buffalo at all. He is a transfer from Alleghany-Limestone - an even smaller school than Timon.
But, when the opportunity arose to enhance his football skills with a coach who played college football at the highest level, it was a no brainer.
“After my freshman year of high school, I wanted to take football seriously. I was on Instagram one day and I saw Joe Licata Football add in my notifications. I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn and train with an accomplished athlete such as Joe Licata. I started going to his camp learning a lot about the game of football perfecting my routes with his wide receiver coaches Alex Neutz and Matt Weiser. His team of coaches taught me everything I know about football today,” stated O’Dell-Ryan. “So when the opportunity came to play for a coach like Licata how could I refuse. I knew if I wanted to make a name for myself I needed to play on a bigger stage and against harder competition, which is what you get in the Monsignor Martian League.”
Timon has had some very successful coaches come through its doors in the past 60 plus years. Licata is hoping to restore the Pride in the Paw. Players like O’Dell-Ryan love playing for him. He holds the kids to a very high standard.
Practices are intense, and Licata has the quarterback IQ that the players are looking for. His football knowledge is some of the best in WNY and players will do anything for him.
“Playing for Joe is a lot of fun. He holds us to the highest standards as athletes and students. If we don't handle our business in the classroom we are not allowed to handle business on the field,” stated O’Dell-Ryan. “He wants us to be the best student-athletes we can be and holds us accountable for our mistakes. Joe is a former QB and is not afraid to call pass plays a majority of the time. This makes playing the receiver position a lot of fun.”
O’Dell-Ryan isn’t your biggest receiver out on the field. He isn’t going to posses that 6-foot-3 height that people love. What he doesn’t have in height he makes up with speed and his willingness to go over the middle.
There isn’t a ball that O’Dell-Ryan doesn’t want to have, He is a typical receiver, he wants the ball all the time. If that means going over the middle and taking a pounding then so be it. He wants to do whatever he can to help his team get the wins.
“Being a smaller receiver is an advantage in my book. A smaller frame allows for quick movements and makes it easier to get low the under thrown balls,” stated O’Dell-Ryan. “No Matter what anyone says playing the receiver position is the hardest to play in football. It's our responsibility to make the big plays and put our bodies on the line to win the game. I have a background in dance and gymnastics in my younger years and it helps me move on the field and make acrobatic catches. There is no better feeling than coming down with the football and making a big play for your team.”
It hasn’t been easy for O’Dell-Ryan and his teammates the first couple of seasons winning football games. The team has been built up through recruiting classes, so the team has been young.
It would have been easier to build through transfers, but Licata wanted to build the program the right way. That meant the players had to learn how to win. Last season, the Tigers were in a lot of games - but just couldn’t finish, It was the sign of a young team.
Leaders like O’Dell-Ryan knows what it takes to get the job done - and they are hoping to turn the fortunes of the team around. After a 47-18 loss in their season opener, O’Dell-Ryan knows there is still some work to be done.
“If you look at the games from last year we fell just short of winning a lot of games. It was a couple of plays here and there that if we made that would have led to getting a win in those game,” stated O’Dell-Ryan. “Even in the championship game, we had many starters injured. We come into this season with a huge chip on our shoulder and are ready to go get a championship ring and put the shine back in the shamrock of South Buffalo.”
It wasn’t easy offseason for O’Dell-Ryan and his teammates as tragedy struck the program early in the season. Paul Humphrey was the heart and soul of Timon football - and maybe even Timon. He was a kid that always had a smile on his face.
When he was killed over the summer it struck the football team and the Timon community hard. This season, his number 2 jersey will be worn by a different player every game. it’s a way for the Tigers and community to grieve his lost.
“When I came to Bishop Timon Paul Humphrey was my first friend. He had lunch at the same table as me and we always talked about football and our goals, past games and everything else guys would talk about. He was one of the most positive people I have ever met. We spent many days on the field together running routes and working out in the gym. When I first heard that Paul passed away I didn't believe it. Going to his funeral was one of the worst days of my life. He was always there to celebrate big plays on the field with me. Paul was only a sophomore and had many great years ahead of him,” stated O’Dell-Ryan. “On July 3 at 11, I received a text from Paul asking me to get on PS4 and play Madden with him. I was glad I decided to get on. I was able to talk to him for a good hour about life and have a good time with my man Paul. The last thing he said to me was "Hey man I need to go do something, I'll be right back" after 10 minutes of waiting I decided to get off. That was the last time I talked to Paul. He passed away 10 days later. This season I wear number 11 for the last time I talked to my friend Paul Humphrey and play for him. I take what he said to me to heart. He is gone now and left earth for a greater purpose that only God knows. But he said he will be back and I know he will be. When it's my time to leave earth, I'll see him again.”
O’Dell-Ryan has one his thoughts squarely on the season, but he is also looking toward the future. With college looming, O’Dell-Ryan wants to play at the next level. He believes he has the talent to compete with some of the best receivers in the country.
Coming from a small school just gives him a chip on his shoulder. Colleges will point to his size, but that can’t see his heart. He gives everything to his team and teammates. He also is a top student in the classroom
It just isn’t about football for O’Dell-Ryan. He is making a name for himself in the classroom as well.
“In college, I want to study business and play football. Academically I wanted to stack my resume from a young age. My freshman year I won the St. Boneventure University Science Fair. With my project about concussions, CTE, and an innovative helmet invention. After winning that event they sent me to Los Angles for a week to the biggest science fair in the world known as Intel ISEF. There I was able to make connections with the future big names of the world. Also my sophomore year I graduated from the Young Entrepreneur Academy and pitched the same project as the Science fair in front of an investor panel winning investment funds to continue my research,” stated O’Dell-Ryan. “Again, qualifying for a national competition at RIT. There I pitched my business/project in front of Bill Saunders a billionaire and many other big-name entrepreneurs. I have a passion for pitching new things and a challenging task. From a football standpoint, I have been working a lot on my body because of it being a huge part of college football. I put on 20 pounds of muscle since last season thanks to the generosity of my host family feeding me great and too many protein shakes to count. Also, Coach Brodnicki putting in many hours of weight room after school with me. A goal I set from my freshman year was to play DI football. After a solid performance last year, I was able to make some connections and game day visit with University at Buffalo and Villanova University while keeping in contact with UNC Charlotte, Sacred Heart University and Marist College at the DI level. Going into my final season this year will be the make or break to play at that level. At division 3 level I am very interested in Southern Virginia University after visiting with them and having an amazing time they offered me a roster spot and the opportunity to play with them and compete at a high level of football. For me, the biggest thing is surrounding my self with the right people in college to be the most successful person I can be.”