FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Brace yourself, Matt Ryan. You’ve got a former teammate who is revved up over the possibility of turning you into a pancake Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
New England Patriots rookie defensive lineman Ron Brace couldn’t shed his smile when asked about the chance to square off with Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons next week. Brace and Ryan were teammates for four years at Boston College, and they each played some of their best football in 2007, when the Eagles went 11-3, qualified for the ACC Championship game and won the Champs Sports Bowl.
After four years of practicing against each other — and thus, Brace couldn’t actually hit his quarterback — Brace has all the incentive in the world to put a lick on one of his old friends.
“Hopefully,” said Brace, who got more and more excited. “Hopefully, it’ll be a sack. Hopefully.”
Each player arrived at Boston College in 2004, but Brace redshirted during his freshman season and stayed an extra year before entering the draft. Brace hasn’t seen Ryan since he returned to campus for Boston College’s game against Virginia Tech in October 2008.
“It’ll be nice to see him, but it’s also going to be fun just to go against him because I did that for four years going against him in practice, and now I’m finally going to go against him in a game,” said Brace, who the Patriots selected with the 40th pick in April’s NFL draft. “It’s going to be good to see him and also bad at the same time because he is a good quarterback.”
Ryan, the third overall pick in 2008, was the Offensive Rookie of the Year. He threw for 3,440 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. More importantly, Ryan led the Falcons to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth just a year after they went 4-12, finished in last place in the NFC South and were in complete disarray after the Michael Vick situation (among a list of other incidents that embarrassed owner Arthur Blank’s franchise).
“We didn’t really talk about that much,” Brace said when asked if he and his Boston College teammates discussed the pressure levied on Ryan. “It was more just his performance. I can’t really say I knew what his mindset was because nobody knows except for him. I would think he probably just went in there knowing he had a lot of work to do. He had to pick up on a franchise where they were at that point in time and pick up the shoes that Michael Vick left and just change them around. He’s not as mobile as Michael Vick, but he’s as effective as you know what.”
There seemed to be a great debate about whether the Falcons should use their first-round pick on Ryan, who was a 2007 Heisman Trophy candidate and ACC Player of the Year. He wasn’t considered a sure thing by some draft analysts, and the cost of swinging and missing on a quarterback with a top-five selection could have destroyed the franchise to an even further degree. However, Atlanta determined it needed a new face of its team and pulled the trigger on Ryan, who vastly exceeded the expectations set for a rookie quarterback.
According to Brace, though, Ryan’s former teammates weren’t all that surprised about his level of professional success.
“Knowing Matt and his work ethic, you know he was going to go in there and do just his work, and try to earn his spot, and then learn his job, and then from there, just work off of that,” Brace said. “That’s where the talent comes in.”
Ryan’s record-breaking season in 2007 was one of the greatest by a quarterback in Boston College history, and it was a year in the making. Brace and his teammates saw Ryan turn into a different person once he became the starter in 2006. Ryan was more focused, more accountable and more driven to elevate his game. It was only a matter of time, they believed, until Ryan became an NFL star.
“You could see the change once he got the starting role,” Brace said. “You knew it was his turn to run the show, so he just had to be on top of it. He was making sure everybody else was on top of it because at the same time, it’s a team sport, and we all have to be on top of our game if we want to win our game. We did a fairly good job when he was there, and I think he did his job. That’s why he’s so recognized and loved by all the people at BC and now the Falcons.”