Senior captains Pat Hayes & Jeff Ryan (with head coach E.J. Mills, center) have led the Jeffs to 24 wins in four seasons
Amherst Football Captains Find Common Ground
November 7, 2002
AMHERST, MA – Amherst College senior co-captains Jeff Ryan (Belmont, MA) and Pat Hayes (E. Bridgewater, MA) met on the first day of preseason training camp freshman year and liked each other immediately. They had a lot in common. Ryan had missed most of his senior year of football at Belmont Hill with a broken leg, and Hayes' career at East Bridgewater High was similarly abbreviated by a series of nagging shoulder injuries. They trickled through the Division I recruiting cracks and surfaced at Amherst, bound by anxiety. After a year away from the gridiron, neither knew what to expect and each had something to prove.
Originally a linebacker, Ryan was thrust into the starting fullback position as a first-year, thanks to an injury in the offensive backfield. He's been there ever since. Hayes paid his dues on special teams before an injury at right tackle vaulted him to the top of the depth chart, where he remains to this day.
Yet with all their similarities, you couldn't pick a more mismatched pair. Hayes is emotional and fiery. He lights up a room with his sheer presence. Ryan is subdued and even-tempered. He doesn't want to talk to or be touched by anybody until after the final whistle. One leads by example, the other with personality and guile. You might call them an Odd Couple, but the reality is these two captains are a perfect match.
"What Jeff brings to the table isn't a lot of rah-rah stuff," says Hayes. "I do the talking and he does the leading. There's no one over the other. It's irreplaceable to have two people on those different levels because we operate to appeal to everybody."
"He knows me well enough to take over the vocal aspect of our captaincy," Ryan concurs. "Some things need to be said. After the coin toss when we run back to the sideline, he's the one screaming and yelling. I'm not good at that stuff. You need that from a captain, but at the same time you don't want overkill. We seem to give each other balance."
Ryan's portion of the captaincy, the unassuming, blue-collar part, carries over onto the playing field, where he earned Freshman of the Year plaudits as a rookie and Amherst Co-Offensive Back of the Year honors as a sophomore despite logging just 18 carries over his first three seasons. His job is to plow the road so to speak, sacrificing statistics for physical punishment, clearing a path for whichever ball carrier will invariably rush for 100 yards on a given week. Former tailback Okey Ugwonali '02 racked up nearly 2,000 career rushing yards behind Ryan before passing the torch to current tailback Fletcher Ladd '04, who entered the sixth week of this season as the second leading rusher in the nation with a whopping 1,020 yards on 191 carries.
"The great thing about Jeff is he's been playing since his freshman year and he's one of the most unselfish football players I've ever coached," says offensive coordinator Don Faulstick. "In order to be a prototypical fullback, you have to be unselfish and just want to win football games. He's blocked for a lot of good players. You don't run for all those yards on your own. Their success has been directly related to Jeff."
"I enjoy my job," Ryan explains. "I like the hitting, the collisions, the physical aspect of the game. I take pride in Fletch getting his 200 yards, or Okey, or whoever. The stats aren't important to me and never have been. The most important thing has always been winning."
While Ryan overpowers would-be tacklers, Hayes, an All-NESCAC and All-New England hurdler who also captains the indoor and outdoor track teams, uses speed and athleticism to his advantage. At 6' 1", 217 pounds, he often surrenders as much as 80 pounds to opposing offensive linemen but finds ways to make plays nonetheless, a capability first evidenced as a sophomore in a crucial 28-20 win at Trinity. The victory helped propel the Jeffs to an unofficial conference championship and their first outright Little Three Title in 14 years, and Hayes led the way with a blocked extra point and a key tackle in the backfield on fourth-and-seven and under a minute remaining.
This season, after a standout junior campaign, Hayes has emerged as a defensive force with 36 tackles, including five for loss and two sacks. His nine tackles in a 27-24 overtime win over Tufts University in Week 6 were a career high.
More importantly, Hayes is a born leader, as adept at fostering team chemistry as he is at circumventing hulking offensive tackles.
"Pat is an absolute great one," raves head coach E.J. Mills. "He's not particularly big but he's lightning in a bottle. He lights up a room and has an electric personality. Being a captain is both underrated and overrated. It's important to have the pulse of the team and the respect of the players. He brings people together."
Bitten by a travel bug inherited from his parents, Hayes has applied for assignment in the Peace Corps after graduation, admittedly not the typical career path for your average college football player. But Hayes isn't from a typical family. His parents met while in the Peace Corps in a village in Africa. They were soon married and traveled the world. Young Patrick was born in the Philippines and lived in his father's native Ireland before the family finally settled in Massachusetts.
"I definitely have adventure in my blood," says Hayes, whose dream destination, like his parents', is Africa. "The Peace Corps is a huge commitment, but to be at a place like Amherst with the people I'm surrounded by, I realize I'm pretty lucky. At this point, giving something back seems like the right thing to do."
Also internationally inclined, Ryan spent last semester studying art history in Italy and became fascinated with the language and culture. He treks to nearby UMass Amherst once a week for an Italian language class and may eventually pursue a career in international consulting.
"I studied in Italy last semester and loved it," beams Ryan. "I have a passion for it and can't wait to go back. I'm always using Italian phrases in practice and my teammates give me a hard time about it. If I could become fluent in Italian and work in Rome, that would be my dream."
For now the goal is one last victory over Williams (Saturday at noon in Amherst, televised regionally on NESN), and all daydreams about exotic travel destinations will rest securely on the back burner. Hayes will be fired up and Ryan will be stoic, two totally different people who found a common ground in football.