Making A Difference
By Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor
Photos by Geoff Schneider/Sports Union
There are times in a young persons life when they have to choose what is best for them. Whether that would be in sports or academics, trying to find the right is always scary.
Most high school athletes dream about playing at the next level. While a lot of them are two or three-sport athletes, players still set their sights on those dreams.
If you would have asked Army West Point lacrosse player Brendan Ryan if he would be wearing the Black and Gold colors of the Black Knights on the lacrosse field he probably would have told you that you are nuts.
A three-sport star in high school, basketball, football and lacrosse, it was football that was his passion. The gridiron was where he was going to make his living at the next level. He was a bruising player of the Hamburg Bulldogs, and had dreams of taking his talent to the next level.
But, that’s what’s strange about life. You plan one thing and end of going into a completely different direction.
“It was my sophomore year when I started to think about lacrosse,” said Ryan. “I got pulled up the end of my freshman year for the playoffs.”
Ryan had the athletic ability to be a very good lacrosse player, but he was raw. He had been putting all his time in on the football field trying to get better at that sport. While most kids are picking up the lax stick at a very early age it was different for Ryan.
He knew for himself to get better that he was going to have to grind every single day. The hard work that he was putting in paid off during his sophomore year when he went up against Max Maxwell.
The Hamburg program is known for churning out Division I lacrosse player and Maxwell was one of the best to come through the school. While Maxwell took it to Ryan a couple of times early on in practice, Ryan got his revenge and shut him down.
Right there Ryan knew if he worked hard he could make lacrosse into his main sport.
“During practice I ended up going against a few of the starters. They were like play defense and I never played defense before,” stated. Ryan. “They said go play defense against Max Maxwell. I did ok, he burned me a couple of times. I stopped him one time and coach Sev was pretty impressed and he switched me to D-Middie.”
The hard work he put in during the off season and with Sweetlax was finally paying off and Army West Point coach Joe Alberici was starting to take notice. Coach A knows the Western New York area well having recruited the likes of former St. Francis High School standout Andrew Maisano.
He saw something in Ryan, as raw as it could be. It was just trying to get the young man from Hamburg on campus. Little did coach A, and the staff, know but Ryan was on the West Point campus before.
Since football was his first love, Ryan attended a couple of football camps there. He was able to step foot on the West Point campus and soak it all in. The tradition of the campus is hard to pass up and Ryan was hooked after a couple of more visits.
“I kind of had an idea of what it was about, because my dad dragged me out here for a couple of football camps,” Ryan said with a laugh. “I thought it was pretty cool, but I thought I would never be able to get in here with my grades and stuff. A couple years later when Coach A contacted my to play lacrosse I thought that was pretty cool. What other schools could offer me just wasn't comparable to what they could offer me here.”
His time, however, didn’t start right away at the academy. Instead he went to the United States Prep School. There Ryan was able to just focus on his academics and life as a cadet. He didn’t have to worry about trying to to make an impact as a freshman on the lacrosse team at the academy.
Instead he was learning everything it took to be a very successful person on and off the field. Even with all the learning it was still a shock value. He recalls the first easy he wrote when he walked into the Prep School.
It was an eye opening experience when he handed his essay in and got it back during class with the grade he received. Doubt automatically starting entering his mind. He didn’t know if he was even going to make it through a week let alone the next four years.
“I thought the prep school was great. I absolutely loved it,” stated Ryan. “The prep school was great for kids who needed to get their grades and up - and get ready for a sport. I loved the prep school. It got me ready academically, militarily and athletically for lacrosse.”
Now, a couple years into his academy life, Ryan is ready to make a difference with the Black Knights. Knowing the type of person Ryan is he isn’t the “I have to get mine” type of guy. He is the team player that is looking to help out his teammates every way possible.
Even last seasons when he barely saw the field, Ryan never complained. For him, not playing, was just an opportunity to get better in all aspects of his game. His was a way for him to get better on and off the field.
Coming into spring camp, Ryan has been turning heads. His play during the early portion of practice has him breaming with confidence. He is hoping this year he will be able to crack the first couple of lines - and help the Black Knights win the Patriot League title and get back to the NCAA tournament.
“My first year, I just wanted to make a difference on the team,” stated Ryan. “I have always been a team first win type of guy. This year, I want to break the first couple of lines and help my team win. I just want to make a difference.”
Either way, Ryan will be helping his team succeed. Ryan is one of many Western New York to come through the hallow gates of West Point. The connection runs deep and it helps that Ryan is able to go through this experience with a few other young men and women form the Western New York area.
The type of bond is what makes the academy great. Ryan knows that his early struggles where nothing new. If he thought they were all he had to do was ask one of his fellow Buffalo pals. Another nice thing in common is if the Buffalo Bills win or lose, more lose than win, he can go through the pain and jubilation with those who knows what’s going.
“It’s so nice that you know on a Monday after a Bills win or loss you got guys that are just like you. That are cut from the same cloth,” stated Ryan. “They always have your back. More or less we all had the same upbringing.”