November 1, 2006

DeMeco Ryans shines in NFL

Tide fans have known for years that linebacker DeMeco Ryans was a special player but the NFL and the Houston Texans are only just beginning to learn what the 22-year-old Bessemer native is all about.

With 63 total tackles this season, Ryans is the league's leading rookie tackler and ranks seventh overall in tackles for the entire NFL. After being selected as the first pick of the second round in the NFL Draft, Ryans has quickly become a leader for the Texan defense, starting at middle linebacker and leading the team in tackles. But despite his fast start, Ryans is not surprised with his early success in the big leagues.

"I'm really not surprised. Not to sound arrogant or anything but I know my abilities and I know what I'm capable of," Ryans said. "The game of football hasn't changed, it's the same game that I played at Alabama. It's just a matter of learning a new defense and new terminology."

Having met his goal of proving that he belongs in the NFL, Ryans said he'll set his sights a bit higher now, like trying to get turn the struggling Texans into a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

"I always expect to be a top guy on whatever defense I'm a part of. I'm happy that I've been able to accomplish what I have so far and it's something to build off of. Now I really want to focus on helping my team get some wins and hopefully lead them into the playoffs soon."

Part of the reason Ryans feels he has adjusted so quickly to the NFL is the fact that he played in a league that has produced more active NFL players than any other league, the Southeastern Conference.

"I think the SEC is the closest thing you can get to the NFL in terms of speed," Ryans said. "Playing in the SEC helped me out a lot as far as being ready for this league."

Life as a pro is a bit different than Ryans' days at the Capstone but Ryans said he is learning to adjust to big city life.

"It's different living in a big city. The biggest thing for me is having to be conscious of time when you're going anywhere because there's so much traffic you're pretty much always going to be late. Houston's a fun place though."

Despite playing against some of the biggest names in all of sports, Ryans doesn't allow himself to be starstruck during games against big-name players.

"After the games if I'm playing against Donovan McNabb or Payton Manning, Pro Bowl quarterbacks and MVPs, it kind of hits me like 'wow I just played against him.' But when I'm out on the field it's just another guy in another color jersey and the only thing I'm thinking about is getting after him."

Ryans hasn't forgotten his teammates back in Tuscaloosa and continues to support them each week.

"I talk to several of the guys every week. I talk to Juwan Simpson and Terrence Jones all the time and give them advice and ask them how they are doing."

Though he's a Texan now, Ryans is still a Crimson Tide man at heart and never misses an Alabama game if he can help it.

"I've been watching closely all season. I check them out every chance I get. I think we've got a good team right now, they're just missing that killer instinct. Whenever we have teams on the ropes, it seems like we just let them off. There's no reason this team can't be undefeated right now if we just take the opportunities we get to put away the competition."

Ryans said he is thrilled to be living out his dreams in the NFL but will never forget where he came from and how he got there.

"It's a great experience. I'm living out a dream come true to play in the NFL. It's everything I expected it to be. It's really great, but it's no Alabama."

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