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Chad Ryland’s quest for perfection finds a home in College Park

Ryland has been one of Maryland’s best transfer portal additions this season.

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland football kicker Chad Ryland is always searching for the perfect ball. But between the 66 field goals he’s made at the collegiate level and the thousands of kicks he’s made with no one watching, he’s never found it. Not because he hasn’t kicked it, because to him, there’s always room for growth.

No one has chased more balls or watched the swinging motion of Ryland’s leg more than his dad, Todd Ryland.

When Chad is back home in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, he constantly enlists his dad to help him as he kicks dozens of balls through uprights.

Todd never minds helping his son, even when the perfectionist in Chad comes out. Todd recalls the countless times he has seen Chad crush a string of balls dead center through the goal posts that are good from close to 50 yards out.

“Good balls,” Todd would tell Chad.

“They need to be better,” Chad would respond.

“He was always harder on himself than I ever was with him,” Todd said. “I would tell him at some point you have to be happy with, you know, it was a B-plus day, it wasn’t an A-plus day and sometimes that’s good enough, but it was never good enough for him. It always had to be an A to an A-plus day.”

Ryland’s obsessiveness with greatness led him from being an under-recruited kid out of high school to one of the most accurate college kickers in the country with a legit chance of playing in the NFL.

Ryland finished last season with an 86.4% field goal percentage and was a perfect 47-for-47 on extra points. This season, with a made field goal against Michigan State on Oct. 1, he tied the Big Ten record for most consecutive made field goals with 24.

He became the first kicker in Maryland history to make two 50-plus yard field goals in the same game when he did it against Michigan earlier this season.

Similar to the journey of many kickers, Ryland originally played soccer. Unique to Ryland is how late he started kicking footballs.

Ryland was a sophomore at Cedar Crest High School when he went to a football game with his dad.

In the car ride home from that game, Todd made a suggestion that set his son down an entirely new path.

Todd recommended to Chad that he try kicking for the football team next season while continuing to play soccer. Chad’s leg strength could set him up for immediate success while playing in front of large crowds at a school that is passionate about its football program, the elder Ryland told his son. Todd felt the town’s football team had a need, and Chad was the perfect person to help the team while also adding to his own high school experience.

Neither of them ever imagined it would be the first step of a new career.

Anyone who’s shown up to a Maryland football game early enough this season has seen Ryland nailing 60-yard field goals in warmups. The longest of his career is a 55-yarder and his longest this season is a 53-yarder, but depending on the conditions, Maryland’s coaching staff believes in Ryland’s extended range.

That leg strength wasn’t developed overnight. It took an extraordinary work ethic and uncanny mental discipline to get to that point.

“He’s just a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to the kicking part of it and attention to detail, and I think that’s good, I think the position requires that if you’re going to be successful,” Todd said.

Chad and his dad used to go to Cedar Crest to kick on the field, even after it was supposedly closed. They snuck under the fence on countless occasions, and when they were instructed to leave, they left for a few moments, then turned around and went right back to work with their footballs and kicking sticks.

During his bye weeks at Eastern Michigan, Ryland drove straight from practice to Ohio to work with his trainer Andrew Gantz, a former kicker who now trains high-level kickers across the country.

Ryland got right out of the car after driving four hours, stretched, and had a kicking session, according to Gantz. Ryland spent the night in Ohio, woke up the next morning, had another kicking session with Gantz, and then drove straight back to school.

“That’s eight hours round trip on your bye week when most of these guys are resting, taking off. He’s hungry as hell,” Gantz said. “That’s why I love coaching him because you beg for that player.”

This past weekend, Maryland had off for its bye week and Ryland met up with Gantz to train.

“I can honestly say this without a doubt that he’s probably the best human being that I’ve ever coached,” Gantz said.

It’s that gem of a player, worker and leader Maryland head coach Mike Locksley discovered he had when Ryland came to campus last spring. Ryland sits on Locksley’s leadership council filled with players he considers leaders of the group.

“He was probably one of the more meaningful gets out of the transfer portal for us and not just his ability to kick, but if you’ve watched him and how he’s integrated into a new football family, he’s already one of the guys that shows tremendous leadership,” Locksley said.

Maryland has struggled with consistency in the kicking game since Locksley took over. Although last year’s kicker Joseph Petrino had his moments — a game-winner against Illinois in week three was certainly one of them — consistency was a problem. It was an important area as any for Locksley’s staff to fill this offseason, especially with an offense as prolific as Maryland’s.

“You know how good it feels when I go and shake his hand after every kick through the end zone,” Locksley said. “This sure feels good because I’m not holding my breath.”

For Ryland, the decision to leave Eastern Michigan wasn’t easy. But after some changes to the coaching staff and realizing another year in college could help his NFL stock, he entered the portal.

Former special teams coordinator Ron Zook recruited Ryland and had dinner with him and his dad when he visited Maryland. Locksley called it Zook’s last “present” before he left Maryland and the college ranks for a coaching position in the XFL prior to this season.

The pitch to Ryland was simple, like the one his dad gave him when he decided to start kicking: He’d be a filling a void for a major program with an established culture in a top conference and have a ton of opportunities to showcase his talent.

Ryland’s late boom did not put him on the radar of top colleges coming out of high school. Ryland received offers from several FCS programs, but just a couple of FBS schools. Eventually, he landed at Eastern Michigan as a walk-on.

While he didn’t expect to play much as a freshman, Ryland won the starting job by the end of training camp and was placed on scholarship following his sophomore season.

It took just two games for Ryland to make a name for himself on the collegiate scene, when he nailed the most memorable kick of his life in the second game of his career.

Eastern Michigan trailed Purdue on the road, 19-17. With the clock winding down, Eastern Michigan put its fate in the leg of its kicker.

Ryland went through his checklist, like he does before every game and every kick. When the ball was snapped, it was just another kick that Ryland sent through the yellow posts. But this one sent his team home with an upset win in West Lafayette.

“That sort of gave me the confidence and sort of little push I needed to really go after it,” Ryland said. “Like okay, I can do this. Let’s commit and let’s go all in.”

After a great start to his freshman campaign, Ryland hit a wall. He finished the season in a rut, making just 12 out of his last 20 field goal attempts.

Spiraling is common in the game of kicking. One miss can lead to two, which can lead to three which can mean a seat on the bench and a shortened career. Any doubt breeds disappointment.

When Ryland went through the first rough patch of his career at the end of his freshman season, he keyed in on learning from failure.

Ryland began working with Gantz the offseason following that year.

Gantz was impressed by Ryland’s freshman season and the talent he saw firsthand in their first workout together in Cincinnati. But he knew Ryland had a lot of work to do to live up to his potential.

“I was just honest with him, I’m like like ‘Look man, you can do a lot of stuff with this, however, you got to put in the work, you got to buy in,’” Gantz recalls from his first workout with Ryland. “The thing I loved about him that first day, which is why I wanted to coach him so much more after that is because of how many questions he asked, how attentive he was, how he loved breaking down film like I do. It’s those kinds of intangible things.”

While Ryland peppered his soon-to-be mentor and close friend Gantz with questions about technique, Ryland absorbed it all. The work with Gantz paid off.

“He’s only gotten better every single year and that’s a testament to that work ethic,” Gantz said.

Gantz likens a kicker to a sniper in the military, of course with lower stakes. He installs that in all his trainees, and it’s that militaristic mindset that fuels a killer instinct mentality, one Gantz watched Ryland cultivate.

“He’s been a really influential piece in my kicking journey,” Ryland said about Gantz. “He saw my potential even when I wasn’t at my greatest yet and helped mold me to where I am today.”

Although Ryland has been in a bit of a slump the last three weeks — he’s missed four of his last eight field goal attempts — he’s been here before. And the same thing that’s got him out of his previous slides will get him out of this one.

“I know my routine works,” Ryland said. “It’s just sticking with what you know works and not losing faith and being completely results oriented when stuff starts to go wrong and it gets a little hectic. It’s all about staying composed.”

With the leg strength, mental makeup and work ethic Chad possesses, there’s little doubt he’ll get back on track this season and finish his college career strong. As for what’s next?

The goal is the NFL, Ryland says, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get there.

“I don’t think there’s anything that I haven’t experienced in the last four years and that’s what helps me have the confidence I have now,” Ryland said. “I’ve hit the game-winners, I’ve missed a game-winner, I’ve hit the long kicks, I’ve done it all. There’s nothing I haven’t seen.”

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