In the fourth-round of the 2023 NFL Draft, Chad Ryland became the highest specialist Bill Belichick ever drafted in his New England Patriots tenure. Flashback to Ryland’s high school days, that would seem like a long shot — especially as football wasn’t even on his radar until his junior year.
Ryland was a four-year varsity starter on his soccer team as well as a three-year varsity pitcher in baseball for the Cedar Crest Falcons. But when his high school football team needed a kicker, he found his new love.
“The football team needed a kicker. I was a pretty good ball striker on the soccer field. My dad thought it would be something cool to try,” Ryland shared in his introductory conference call. “First time out, end up knocking through a couple 50-yarders. So we were like, ‘oh shoot, maybe there’s a chance to run with this and play on Friday night.’
“I fell in love with football. Friday night lights can’t replicate it.”
Despite adding football to his plate, Ryland still played soccer in the fall during his junior and senior years — he credited his Cedar Crest High School coaches Rob Wildasin and Coach Bensing for allowing him to do both. While he still was on the soccer field, it was clear he had serious potential with the pads on.
In his two high school football seasons, Ryland was named a two-time all-county and all-league kicker. He was ranked as a five-star kicker and 24th in the nation for the class of 2018 by Kohl’s kicking, which eventually earned him a spot at Eastern Michigan.
It was there were Ryland really took off. In his four years with the Eagles, he became the program’s leader in PATs made (141) and in career points scored (309). Ryland also set the EMU single-season record for points (104) in his senior season, while his 56 career made field goals rank second in program history.
The success and talent were clear, but Ryland wanted more. Prior to the 2022 season, the kicker transferred to Maryland where he would get the experience of kicking on a bigger stage in the Big Ten - while hopefully grabbing the attention of NFL teams in the process.
“Eastern Michigan really helped me build and develop my ability. Then the University of Maryland gave me the chance to perform on a bigger stage and just show what I can do at the highest level, and that’s exactly what I wanted,” he said.
“I can’t speak highly enough about Coach [Mike] Lock [Locksley] and literally every single personnel person and teammates I had in that building. They were super supportive of me for being a one-year guy there. They’re like my second family now, similar to everyone at Eastern Michigan. But Maryland helped me show what I can do. I think it certainly helped me get to this position along with Eastern Michigan. So I’m super thankful for both places.”
A strong year in Maryland — Ryland made 19 of 23 field goals — was capped off by a Senior Bowl invite and then being drafted by New England with the 112th overall selection. Ryland went six picks higher than Stephen Gostkowski, who remains the Patriots franchise leader in points, did in 2006.
Ryland is well aware of Gostkowski’s success in New England, as well as some of the other franchise’s best in Adam Vinatieri and more recently, Nick Folk.
“Growing up and not being a kicker until late in my high school career, but still being a fan of football, those are all names that I know and I have the utmost respect for,” Ryland said. “Those guys that have long careers and successful careers like they have, I couldn’t speak higher about any of them.”
Ryland’s first task in Foxboro will be beating out Folk for the team’s starting job. While he’s relishing in the opportunity, he knows there is plenty of work ahead.
“It was surreal. It’s a huge blessing,” he said about getting the call during the draft. “And I’m super thankful for the opportunity and looking forward to making the most of it. But like, at the end of the day, there’s a lot of work to be done. And I know that ahead of coming in, and I can’t wait to get started.”