MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Sean Ryan has lived a life of odd dualities.
He grew up in the urban hubbub of Brooklyn, just one of 2.5 million residents jammed into the western end of Long Island. He began his college career at Temple, where the campus in downtown Philadelphia provided a similar setting to his home.
Despite being around all those people, Ryan rarely saw them when he was playing football. His high school, Erasmus Hall, produced Pro Football Hall of Famers Al Davis and Sid Luckman, but games were a far cry from Friday Night Lights. High school football might not even crack the top 1,000 entertainment options available in New York City.
At Temple, he played in the same stadium as the Eagles, but the crowds could have fit comfortably into the Phillies’ ballpark.
Compared to where Ryan has lived his entire life, Morgantown is a mere blip, unimaginably deep in the sticks.
Yet when he walked onto the field for his first game at Milan Puskar Stadium two weeks ago, Ryan was overwhelmed. Even though he’s always been surrounded by lots of people, this was the first time he was somewhere all the people were there to watch him.
“The first game definitely had me a little nervous,” Ryan said. “But that’s what I wanted to do. I felt the love from the first moment I walked onto the field. I was definitely excited to play in that blue and gold.”
Ryan spent much of the offseason wondering when he would play in the blue and gold. After Temple went through a pair of coaching changes in January, Ryan decided to transfer to West Virginia.
“I just made the move I felt was best for me,” Ryan said. “I loved it there. It was a great place to be. It was just a personal thing for me. I felt I needed to make the change.”
Playing somewhere with strong fan interest factored into Ryan’s decision.
“The fans love the players here. They live and die West Virginia,” Ryan said. “That was the biggest thing for me, to be accepted like that.”
Ryan applied for a waiver to play immediately this season. But the process of getting word from the NCAA drew out over the course of the entire summer and into training camp.
“It was a pretty long process, but I never doubted it and Coach Brown never doubted it,” Ryan said. “Coach Brown did a good job of keeping me focused and locked in. He kept me in good spirits. I prepared as if I was going to play even if I wasn’t going to play.”
Eight days before the Mountaineers kicked off the season, Ryan finally received his clearance.
“At times I was worried, but Coach Brown let me know not to stress,” Ryan said. “He prepared me as a starter and got me ready for Game 1.”
Ryan has three catches for 40 yards in West Virginia’s two games. Though he’s only a sophomore, in terms of game experience he’s a comparative elder statesman at his position. Only T.J. Simmons, George Campbell and Tevin Bush have played more games than Ryan in the receiving corps.
The reality, though, is that Ryan is still a young player with plenty of room to grow. And one of the biggest areas of growth remaining for the big-city kid is learning how to relax in front of big crowds. More than anything else, this season will help prepare him to be ready for that aspect of the game.
“Getting used to playing in a large atmosphere, getting used to playing in front of lots of people,” Ryan said. “Not being scared of making mistakes because of all the people here and the oohs and ahhs. That’s the biggest thing I need to focus on.”