My goal is to figure out the tips and tricks of professional football players and also give you a glimpse into parts of their personal and professional lives that made them a success. In this episode I talk to Jon Ryan (@jonryan9), the punter for the Seattle Seahawks who won a Super Bowl in 2013 and became the first Saskatchewan native to do so.
Jon has always been athletic playing many positions in football and he tried out for one of my favorite shows, American ninja warrior. Jon started his professional career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers as a punter and receiver. Jon and I got into conversations about the Jon Ryan foundation and setting goals and much more but one of the things that Jon taught me is that if you work hard you can do anything that you put your mind to. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy.
My interview with Jon Ryan was the first interview that I did in person and unfortunately, I had technical difficulties and didn’t set up his microphone properly so I have typed out the interview below…
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This interview is brought to you by Polished Publishing Group (PPG). PPG is the publisher of a book that I’m really looking forward to… Smoke and Mirrors: Life in the CFL with Richie Hall. The book will be available on my website when it is released and Richie Hall will be one of my future interviews. PPG helps authors produce professional grade books by guiding them through the entire process from start to finish. They can help produce audiobooks, ebooks, paperbacks, and hardcovers and provide online distribution opportunities around the world. For the authors looking to improve your current book sales, you can check out PPG’s latest series called: T-Shaped Marketing for Authors.
This interview is also brought to you by the Gear-Up with the Jon Ryan Foundation.
Winston: Hey, Jon, I’m glad we got a chance to sit down and chat.
Jon Ryan: Absolutely, thanks for having me on.
W: We are here in Regina at your golf charity Gear-Up with the Jon Ryan Foundation, which provides equipment for eight- and nine-year olds who are just starting to play tackle football. I started playing tackle football last year in Atom, so I missed out. I really like the gear that some of my teammates had. I think the beauty of football is there’s a position for everyone and it doesn’t matter what size you are or how fast you are. Can you tell me more about Gear-Up?
JR: Gear-Up started a few years back when we saw a hole in tackle football in Regina and the eight- and nine-year old division wasn’t there. We wanted to bring that out and with that we wanted to provide kids with proper equipment. For me it is really important for kids to start playing tackle football at a young age and to learn how to tackle properly and learn the fundamentals. With that we wanted to have proper equipment for them. I think that’s where it all started with me. I started playing tackle football at eight years old, but at the time it was for 12 and under. I was playing tackle football with 12 year olds and it was a little bit rough, so I think having a vision for eight- and nine-year olds is great.
W: So why is it important for you to be involved in minor football?
JR: For me Regina has given me so much. Regina Minor Football is where I started playing football. I played years of minor football in Regina. I played High School football here; I played University football here then came back and played Pro football against the Riders so I think it’s very important for me to give back to where it all came from. I have taken way more from the city than I will ever be able to repay. So I started this mission a couple years back to create opportunity.
W: If you could put a message on fortune cookie what would it say?
JR: Oh man, that’s a good question. I think that’s like saying what would I suggest to a young guy or young girl when they are just starting off. For me it would be to stick with what you are trying to become.
W: Do you set goals?
JR: I set a lot of goals. Every year I set goals. I’ve set goals since I was a little kid. My goal was to play in the NFL. I think a lot of people set goals without a plan. A goal without a plan is a dream. For me I set a lot of goals but with that I back it up with a plan. I had a plan to make the NFL. I had a plan to play in the CFL and I was fortunate enough to do that. I start every season by still setting goals and I still draw a map to achieve those goals.
W: Do you write down your goals or visualize them?
JR: Both. Every year I write down all my goals, but you can’t just put them on paper; you have to visualize those goals. You have to see yourself achieving those goals or else they are not going to happen.
W: What are some of the goals that you want to set this season?
JR: The number one goal is always to be the best you can be. In that I have statistical goals. I have achieved more than I ever thought I would. I have played in two Super Bowls; won one, been able to play in the NFL. I have got a couple of contacts that have given me a lot of opportunities to do other things but I think my big goal is I want to make it to a Pro Bowl. I have been playing for going on 14 years now and that hasn’t happened yet. That is one of my big goals but, as well, more of my goals are team-oriented goals. I want to make the playoffs every year; I want to play in more Super Bowls; I want to play in more NFC championships. I want to do more of that stuff too.
W: That would be awesome – to be able to play in the Pro Bowl. How often do you review your goals?
JR: It is probably almost weekly thing in my head. I run through those things every week and that’s kind of like I said, I have been playing for 14 years and those are the things that keep me going. When you play for that amount of time, you kind of get used to things and kind of get complaisant. But you know, I have never got complaisant. I never took anything for granted. I always feel very fortunate for what I’m doing and with that, you have to look back at those doors and realise how lucky you are to be there, but at the same time keep reaching for new doors.
W: How old were you when you set the goal to become a professional football player?
JR: I wanted to be a professional athlete really young, probably eight or nine years old. My goal was always to be a professional punter. It’s probably a little bit rare to set those goals when you are eight years old but for me that was always my dream. It has always been what I set out to achieve.
W: When did you realize you could play professionally?
JR: I think the first time I really had a chance. I grew up kicking all the time; I grew up playing football. I love football and I never knew where I stacked up against other guys, until I went to a football camp in the US. I went through my first year in University right before my first year with the Regina Rams, I went to a camp in Colorado with a lot of division one football players in NCAA. I had no clue where I stacked up against them because I had been kicking by myself here in Regina. I realized that I stacked up with those guys and I could kick with them, so I knew I could hold my own at that level. For the first couple years of playing university football here, I kind of thought maybe I had a shot.
W: You played a whole bunch of different positions: wide receiver, running back, kicker and punter. Did you ever set a goal to play a different position?
JR: In high school I played running back; in college I played receiver, as well as, kicker and punter all the way up, so I always loved to play those positions. I had so much fun playing running back; so much fun playing receiver in university playing for the Rams, but my biggest goal of going to the next level, I knew it was going to be through punting and kicking. My goal was to achieve that status as a Pro Football player through punting.
W: Can you tell me about a time when something didn’t work out for you and you were disappointed at the time but now you’re grateful it turned out that way?
JR: I would definitely say it was after I had played two years in Winnipeg with the Blue Bombers in the CFL then from there I signed with Green Bay, which was absolutely a dream come true. I was going into my third year right before the season started when I got released. This was very painful. You don’t know if you are ever going to play football again and, as it turned out, five days later, I signed with the Seahawks. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but I was lucky enough they came and signed me. I have been there for ten years now. It’s been absolutely the greatest thing that has happened to my career – to sign contracts that I never thought I would have; to be able to play in two Super Bowls; to throw a touchdown pass. I have got to do a bunch of things that I never thought I would get to do and I’m just so grateful for that. But at the time I thought the sky was falling and it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.
W: What are the critical skills that a punter must have to be successful?
JR: There are a lot of skills. The biggest thing with punting is repetition. I think a lot of people want the magical 15-minute video; something that’s going to make you a good punter, but the only thing that’s going to make you a good punter is work. For me, I wasn’t a natural punter. I don’t think anyone is a natural punter. It was something that took 10,000 hours of work. That’s truly what it took for me – just hours and hours of practice. How I got to where I am is through hard work.
W: That’s just like being a quarterback; it’s all about throwing over and over again.
JR: Yeah, it’s all about repetition; it’s about mental reps and being smart; watching film; doing a lot of things that people don’t want to do.
W: If you were teaching your younger self to be a punter what would you do differently?
JR: I don’t think I would do anything differently. I think my whole thing is, like I said before, my work ethic. You know, I just work and work and work. You know, I didn’t have a lot of coaching, but I would watch video on TV; I would watch other punters. I would try to emulate other guys, like Bob Cameron, who you are probably too young to know, but he’s one of the greatest punters to ever live and ended up playing 23 years in the CFL. So I don’t think I would change anything. I would just tell my younger self to keep on working.
W: As you were becoming better and better, what did you focus on?
JR: I don’t think there was one individual thing for me. I always rely a lot on my athleticism. A lot of other punters, it’s not that they are not athletic, but a lot of punters in the NFL are six foot four or six foot five and they really have long limbs. That’s how they get the ball up in the air. For me, even though, compared to an average person, I’m six feet tall, in the NFL that’s very short for a player. So I have always relied on strength and working out. How I got my strength is through working out. I have not relied on that much natural ability.
W: Are there any websites, books or camps that you would access?
JR: There are a lot of camps out there right now. I think the biggest thing when I started going to camp is that it wasn’t so much the coaching but more the competition. That was the first chance that I got to go down south and I got to kick with guys that went to the University of Michigan, Michigan State, University of Hawaii. I really got to match up with those guys. When you start kicking with guys that are at that level, it makes you better. It pushes you to kind of go to that next level. I don’t know if there is any particular thing. My advice is you have to kick with as many guys that are better than you as you can.
W: What has been your favorite memory as a player?
JR: I have a lot of really fun memories. I think early on in my career one of the coolest things for me was in 2004 when I got to come back to Taylor Field Stadium, which is where I grew up watching the game. Maybe I shouldn’t bring this up but I got to come back with the Blue Bombers to play against the Riders on Labor Day. At that time, that was one of my greatest memories, just to be able to be on that field. But you know, obviously, I got to throw a touchdown pass in the NFC championship, which was cool and then the ultimate moment in my career was winning the Super Bowl back in 2013.
W: You got to be on one of my favorite shows – American Ninja Warrior! What were the hardest obstacles?
JR: For me the hardest part, to be honest, was that I was way heavier than everyone. I was 230 pounds and in the greatest shape of my life with only a few percent body fat, but I was way too heavy. The guys that I trained with were 150 pounds; some of them were 135 pounds. They used that to their advantage – the strength to weight ratio where I couldn’t possibly get down to that much. The one that I went out on was the tilting table. I took a bunch of time on that thing. I was way too heavy so I went off. I would love to try it again, maybe when I retire, when I’m a little bit lighter. But that was definitely a great memory I loved to be on there.
W: What other obstacles look easy on TV, but are super hard in person?
JR: The very first obstacle is the quadruple step where you bounce back and forth. That’s kind of the very first thing you see on TV. Whenever they are in one city, they might show 30 competitors on that episode and there will be four or five guys that fall off on that first thing. Some people kind of make fun of that, but in reality on the night when they are filming there’ is about 120 to 130 people that actually do the course. Half of them go out on the first obstacle but they don’t show that on TV. That very first obstacle, that people don’t see, is one of the harder ones to do.
W: What training was the most important when getting ready for it?
JR: I try to do a lot of upper body strength – kind of like chin-up stuff. Because I’m a little bit heavier, I try to do stuff like the salmon ladder. There is this guy in LA who I went to in the offseason. He has an obstacle course in his backyard and I did some training there. Obviously, I kept training for football, but on the side I would just do some Ninja Warrior type stuff.
W: What has been your favorite memory as an American Ninja Warrior?
JR: Just being able to be there on that night; it was really cool just to see the course all lit up and all the fans just being able to be present; just to be with all the people that love to be there and that they took a lot of pride in being able to get to run that course. It meant a lot to me that I got to be there as well.
W: I wanted to thank you for your time, Jon, where is the best place for people to get a hold of you?
JR: You can follow me on twitter at JonRyan9. I think that’s my only social media so you can get a hold of me there.
W: Thank you
JR: Thanks, bud