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Jon Ryan gets his kicks in early with the Saskatchewan Roughriders


SASKATOON — Jon Ryan’s morning routine is anything but routine.

While all of his Saskatchewan Roughriders teammates are gearing up for their day at training camp, the 37-year-old punter is already on the turf at Griffiths Stadium, working on his craft.

“I’m always the first guy on the field,” Ryan said during a break in his first CFL training camp since 2005. “I like to get my work in early and that’s just the way I am.”

There are practical reasons for Ryan’s routine, which often takes place an hour before training camp starts.

“Part of it is me being the first one out,” Ryan said. “Secondly, we only have one field so it’s the only time that I have the entire field to myself. That’s pretty much what I need to punt and that’s the way it has always been.”

Ryan’s early start has been noticed by Riders head coach Craig Dickenson.

“It says that football is important and that’s what we like about it,” Dickenson said. “To a lot of those guys, football is important to them and they enjoy coming to work each day. It says a lot about his character and his commitment to his craft.”

Ryan has already reaped the rewards of his work ethic. He starred for the Sheldon-Williams Spartans and University of Regina Rams before being drafted by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2004.

As a Blue Bomber in 2005, he set an enduring CFL single-season record for average yards per punt (50.6).

Ryan subsequently punted in the NFL for 12 seasons — two with the Green Bay Packers and 10 with the Seattle Seahawks. He is the lone Saskatchewanian to have won a Super Bowl, helping Seattle capture the Vince Lombardi Trophy in 2014.

His tenure with the Seahawks ended when he was released Aug. 20. He sensed the writing was on the wall after the Seahawks traded up to select punter Michael Dickson in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL draft.

Ryan then tried out for the Buffalo Bills, but did not make the final roster.

After having a football season off for the first time since he was a youngster, Ryan signed with the Riders. He called signing with his hometown team a “dream come true” and still feels that way.

“It will start to settle in once we get to the games,” Ryan said. “The shine still hasn’t worn off yet.”

Ryan said it was special to put on a Riders helmet and jersey and just to be at training camp with his teammates.

“It has been eight months off for me and it’s nice to get back to a football atmosphere,” he said.

Dickenson, who doubles as the Riders’ special-teams co-ordinator, said that Ryan initially looked rusty due to having a season off.

“I know that he has been training, but it’s different when you get out here and play,” Dickenson said. “We’re working through a few kinks and he’s going to keep on getting better.

“Even though he’s late in his career, his best days with us are still ahead of us. The Jon Ryan you see in Week 3 or 4 will be better than the one you see in Week 1. He will be even better as the season goes on.”

Ryan said that there have been some adjustments to punting in the CFL after his extended time south of the border.

“First of all, punting in the wind has been different because we never had winds like this (in the NFL),” Ryan said. “It feels like you’re in a farmer’s field because it’s so massive. I’m trying to get used to it and all of the different angles because for punting it’s different in the NFL.”

Dickenson appreciates that Ryan is making an adjustment to the Canadian game. The Riders’ head coach welcomed another aspect to Ryan’s contributions that will benefit the Green and White.

“Similar to (slotback) Manny Arceneaux, he brings such a work ethic,” Dickenson said. “(Ryan) understands that football is a year-round sport and that your body has to be right and your mind has to be right.

“What the young guys see is a guy who spent 12 years in the NFL is jumping into the running back drills, jumping into the receiver drills and working on the scoop drill. They see that and they realize it’s important how we practise.”

Dickenson added that he doesn’t have any special plans when it comes to coaching Ryan.

“I’m really just going to try to be his eyes for him,” Dickenson said. “If he’s struggling, I’m going to tell him what I’m seeing. I’m not going to force him into something he hasn’t done before because it’s too late in the game for that and he has been successful in doing it his way. We’re going to let him do that.”

The impact of Ryan’s signing has been felt away from the gridiron. Fans and media applauded the personable punter’s addition to the roster, even at the expense of Josh Bartel, who was among the team’s most popular players. Bartel, who spent four seasons punting with the Riders, was officially released shortly after Ryan was signed.

The degree to which the announcement was applauded caught Ryan off-guard.

“I know that the people of Saskatchewan are very proud people and proud of the people that come from Saskatchewan and very proud of the Riders,” he said. “All of those things combined led to a bit more attention than I’m used to.”

For example, he received an impromptu standing ovation from the fans at Griffiths Stadium when he first stepped on to the field as a Roughrider.

“It was kind of cool and it’s good to be home,” Ryan said. “People tell me ‘welcome home’ and ‘welcome back’ and it means a lot to me.”

mmccormick@postmedia.com

twitter.com/murraylp

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019


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