Logan Ryan doesn't know where he's going. He doesn't know what is in store. Ryan isn't lost, though; he just finding his way.
He was a third round pick out of the Patriots' feeder school in Piscataway, New Jersey; yet another Rutgers player in the pipeline. He was a cornerback when the Patriots probably didn't need a cornerback. He was yet another draftee for a secondary that somehow could never come together.
If all things went well, Ryan wouldn't have to start. He would fall behind Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, and Kyle Arrington on the depth chart. He'd be a contingency plan in case of injury, or a potential long term replacement for Talib. He was quick. Average build. Average athleticism for a cornerback in the NFL. The second in conference history for passes defended (his 39 passes defended ranks ahead of Darius Butler's 36 and Devin McCourty's 33).
He fell to the third round because scouts were concerned about how he'd translate his college skill set into the NFL. There was no question about his football intelligence, but that's never enough. He was strong, but maybe not strong enough. He was fast, but probably not fast enough. He was good, but was he good enough?
Ryan was stuck in dreaded purgatory for prospects. Teams were afraid of where he might fit on the field; there were rumors that teams such as the 49ers liked him more as a safety than as a corner.
It didn't matter. The Patriots selected him in the third round, a Day One mind stuck in a Day Three body.
His rookie season exceeded all expectations and earned him the title of "Instant Offense" due to his ball skills and his ability to swing the game's momentum back in the Patriots' favor. He saw the field due to multiple injuries- to Talib, to Dennard, and to Arrington. He earned his minutes and showed that he deserved to be on the field.
The 2014 season had the potential to usher in a new age for Ryan. After a season as a role player, as a fringe starter, Ryan earned the coaches' trust at cornerback. Talib was set to depart in free agency, leaving Ryan on the inside track to claim one of the starting roles.
But then the Patriots signed Darrelle Revis, pushing Ryan back into a competition with Dennard for the second starting position. And then they signed Brandon Browner, essentially ending Ryan's hopes for a starting role.
Ryan could have grown frustrated. He deserved to be on the field. But this isn't new territory for Ryan. He's been here before.
It starts with Logan's father, Lester Ryan. He was the first in the family to get a college degree, and he wanted the absolute best for his kids. Ryan's older brother, Jordan, went to Drexel University to become an engineer. Lester is an engineer of a different sort.
Lester is a sixth-degree black belt and teaches police officers self-defense courses. He's a sergeant in the Camden County Prosecutor's Office. He's an engineer of the body and Logan is his finest work.
When Logan was twelve, he wanted to be a professional football player. He told his dad. Lester didn't hesitate and provided Logan with all the mental gifts required to be a professional- and then he offered whatever physical ability he could.
Logan did two-a-days at the age of twelve, before and after his father's work day, in a self-made gym in the backyard. There were box jumps and ladders for strength and footwork. Logan attended practice with the high schoolers over the summer. Working with his father molded him.
"It had a true effect on me to this day," Logan said. "Because I developed this worker’s mentality that repetition, practice and hard work is what really stands out. I was never talented enough to just wake up and go in the NFL. I had to work my whole career to get here."
And for Lester, the training wasn't just limited to football. Logan participated in baseball ("You're going to be able to track balls because you played center field,"), tennis ("You're going to be able to respond quickly because you played tennis,"), golf ("Golf teaches you to concentrate and focus,"), and many other sports. Ryan wasn't a naturally gifted athlete. But as Lester says, "nothing beats hard work," and no one could beat Logan's work ethic.
The dividends paid off as Logan entered high school. But for him, the training was just beginning.
"You had two options," Ryan's high school coach Dan Spittal said to his team after coming back 14 points in six minutes in the final game of their senior year. "Quit, or fight. You fought."
"I knew we had a lot of fight in us. But my team never quit on me and I never quit on my teammates," then-quarterback Ryan said after the game. The season might have been over, but Ryan's fight was ongoing.
Ryan was a four-star recruit at cornerback for Rutgers, one of the school's premier signings in his class. He was supposed to play as soon as he walked on to campus. But when Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano opted to red-shirt Ryan and allow him to stay for five seasons, Logan was crushed.
"It was the hardest point in my life," Ryan said. "But redshirting was the best thing that ever happened to me."
He used the additional year to grow both physically and mentally. He shadowed senior Devin McCourty to pick his brain and added to his knowledge bank. He had previously spent time with former NFL running back Tony Dorsett, a player who trains with Darrelle Revis in the off-season.
So when Ryan waxed about "watching players like (Revis) and Devin McCourty on Sundays," back in 2011, and when he put in film study because it's, "just fascinating to me to see the little things that those two do right," you know Ryan's mind has always been focused on success.
"With McCourty he talks about how to attack receivers and how to prepare. In watching Revis, he takes notes on how to press wideouts off of the line of scrimmage," writes NJ.com's Mike Vorkunov about Ryan's study habits. "The little things that get you cut in the NFL, [he's] trying to learn now."
So after the redshirt season, Schiano was asked about Ryan and the other redshirt freshmen. He had no problem pointing out which player made the most of their additional time. "Logan is doing the best so far."
"At this level," Ryan said about college football. "It's as much about the mental part as it is about the physical part. I know that now." And most importantly? "Having that year under my belt, I know more than I did last year. I’m not lost."
But as Ryan fought his way back after his redshirt season, nothing was handed to him. He had to battle senior Brandon Bing for playing time, ultimately losing out in the competition. Even after winning the nickel cornerback position during spring ball, Ryan still couldn't become comfortable in his role.
The former four-star recruit lost out to a converted wide receiver named Marcus Cooper. Cooper had still been a wide receiver during those spring practices.
"It definitely opened my eyes," Ryan said. "Anybody can play at any time if they're doing their job. Coach is going to put the best players on the field." For Ryan, the redshirt freshman, he only had one choice. Keep working and force the coaches to put him on the field.
It wasn't until the next season that Ryan entrenched himself on the defense, earning second-team All Conference accolades along the way. He followed that year with an even better season, earning first-team All Conference honors as a redshirt-junior, his first under Rutger's new head coach Kyle Flood.
"Logan embodies everything we look for when recruiting a potential student-athlete," Flood said about Ryan after his junior season. "He is a smart, tough, disciplined player with a tremendous work ethic and talent."
Ryan took his talents to the NFL after the season ended, but not without some closure. Ryan started his tenure at Rutgers by losing out to a converted wide receiver. His last recommendation? He helped convert a freshman wide receiver into a cornerback.
"I was on the scout punt return team and he was starting punt team," freshman wide receiver Ian Thomas said. "I’m guarding [Ryan] as if I was a corner because he is a flyer. Coach Flood was watching us at the time. After like two or three reps, Logan goes over to Coach Flood and tells him that I have good hips to be a corner and I’m good at jamming. That’s how it all started."
"It was interesting because it wasn’t something that we as a coaching staff had thought about as an option," Flood said. "But at the same time when I mentioned it to Ian he was very anxious to try it."
The move paid off. Thomas was a starting cornerback by the end of the season.
There's Ryan the fighter, Ryan the student, Ryan the leader, and Ryan the living Sisyphus. All of these traits led him to Foxboro, where he was able to win over Bill Belichick's admiration.
Ryan's journey is still not over. He has yet another mountain to overcome, or a new potential position to learn. He yearns to be on the field, yet he continues to face the same uphill battle season after season.
It's fitting that he was able to reconnect with McCourty, and possible even more surreal that he'll be connecting with Revis. Perhaps his sophomore season in the NFL will be similar to his redshirt season at Rutgers. One of learning and one of growing, both physically and mentally.
For Ryan, he'll continue to fight and continue to win. He returned to Rutgers this off-season to earn his degree in labor relations, and a minor in psychology. "[Graduation is] a big accomplishment in my life," said Ryan. He wants to share that same passion, that same discipline, with others.
"I know down the road I want to help out with kids," Ryan said. "I want to help out the South Jersey community and the state of New Jersey a lot. I just want to be a positive role model in the community for young kids and for young adults to not only just be an athlete, but to be student-athletes, be committed to their word and just be all-around good people."
Ryan's high school coach Spittal wanted his players to say, "I learned more about being successful in life in football than I did in any class."
Logan Ryan has learned discipline, commitment, effort, and leadership through football. His father, his coaches, and his teammates have helped make him who he is today.
No matter whether Ryan continues to fight to start at cornerback, or if he takes on a new challenge at safety, he will give his best effort to help the team. He won't quit on his teammates and he'll do whatever he can to succeed.
Ryan's time at Rutgers may have opened his eyes to what it takes to become a professional football player, but it won't prevent him from heeding the advice he gives to students.
"Dream big," Ryan says. With all of his passion, effort, and desire, it's hard not to see Ryan's dreams coming true.