Jake Ryan was destined to go to ... Ball State, most likely. His older brother played there. His younger brother is a linebacker there now, and for most of his recruitment, it looked like Ryan would end up in the Mid-American Conference also.
And then, about two weeks before Signing Day in 2010, Michigan called. U-M had secured commitments from 10 offensive players and seven defensive players (and one punter) when the 2009 season began, and Rich Rodriguez knew he needed to grab more defenders.
In fact, the Wolverines' final nine commitments in the 2010 class were all defensive players, including Ryan, whose inclusion among the Wolverines' signees came as a shock. To his family.
"I'll be honest, I actually didn't, and I don't think my family expected that to ever happen," said Zack, a redshirt sophomore linebacker with the Cardinals. "His junior year of high school, Jake was like 5-11/6-0 and about 195 pounds and then he had a growth spurt.
"We all thought he would go to one of the MAC schools and be a great player and then he gets a call from Michigan like two weeks before Signing Day. I couldn't believe it because ... it was Michigan. He jumped from a MAC school to a Big Ten overnight.
"Michigan made the right call. He's been a great player and we're all really excited to see how he'll finish off his senior year."
Zack is coming off a 2013 campaign in which he started 12 games and recorded 92 tackles, but at 5-10, 224 pounds, he begrudgingly admits that he's not the player Jake is. Connor Ryan was a 6-1, 194-pound wide receiver at Ball State that recorded 78 catches for 669 yards and five touchdowns from 2010-13. And he, too, admits he's not the same caliber player Jake is.
But he likes to think he played a part in creating the potentially dominant linebacker that stands before Michigan fans today.
"Imagine two future Division I athletes going at it in whatever we do," said Connor, now 23 and working in Indianapolis. "Basketball, sledding, digging holes in the backyard. Both of us always had to be better than the other. I just remember always competing with him.
"I'm proud of what I've accomplished but seeing my brother play in front of 100,000 each weekend, being a captain ... I brag about him to others rather than try to talk about myself.
"And whether or not he would ever say it aloud, I like to think I had a positive influence on him becoming the leader and the type of football player he is now. I think all of us, and my dad, had a hand in shaping Jake become a great football player."
There is one Ryan left. Ian will be a senior at Cleveland St. Ignatius in the fall, and though he does not project to be a Big Ten-caliber recruit, he should play Division I football.
"It's almost shocking because I know how hard it is to make it at that level and to have three of us, and probably four, is incredible," Connor said.
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