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MIAC Profiles of Excellence: Ryan Wimmer, Saint John's University

floated rightby Rich Mies, CSN Mapping the MIAC Columnist

Often, football is compared to war. Terms such as battles, bombs and in the trenches are used to describe activity on the gridiron in militaristic fashion. The quarterback often is referred to as the team’s general in another warfare analogy. However, when talking about Saint John’s University linebacker Ryan Wimmer, a more apt comparison would be that of a hunter, something he does extraordinarily well both on and off the field.

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floated leftOn the field, Ryan patrols the middle of SJU’s defense so thoroughly most opponents run their game plan away from him. Like a hunter, he is in constant pursuit of his prey- whether that is a runningback hoping to gain a few yards, a receiver looking to get open or a quarterback trying to get off a pass. Ryan is a two-time All-MIAC selection, as well as All-Region and preseason All-American and he is a key component to one of the most stringent defenses in the area.

“Ryan has been such a mainstay for us the past three years,” states SJU defensive coordinator Jerry Haugen. “He is as tough of a linebacker as you could ask for. He has great athletic ability and excellent reactions. Ryan has learned and executed our defense as well as anyone I have coached here at Saint John’s.”

Off the field, Ryan is an avid outdoorsman, spending countless hours hunting, fishing or talking about his exploits. “He is an avid fisherman and hunter so he always has great stories to share about his hunting and fishing escapades with his friends and teammates,” noted Haugen. “He might be the only guy I know that can watch an entire movie about hunters sitting in a deer stand waiting for that special buck to saunter by.”

Ryan has many fond memories from his fishing and hunting adventures. One of his favorite experiences came on the opening day of gun hunting season for deer when he was in high school. “I always go up to my uncle’s farm near Detroit Lakes, MN,” recalled Ryan. “I was sitting in my favorite deer stand on the other end of the farm located near a low-lying area that funnels deer traffic because it is heavily wooded with willows and trees.”

Up in his stand, Ryan did not see any deer all morning other than a few doe, and he was getting antsy, wondering whether he would see a buck. “All of a sudden, I heard some deer coming from behind me running toward my direction,” he said. “The first deer came into view, but it was a doe. I saw a second deer come out, but it was another doe. Behind them was the nice eight-pointer with his head toward the ground chasing these doe. Instantly, I started to get ‘buck fever,’ the adrenaline was pumping with a little bit of shaking. I tried not to focus on the deer’s horns so I stared at its eyes. I pulled up my gun and laid the crosshairs on the shoulder of the buck. I pulled the trigger. Boom. The buck was hit and ran off about 30 to 40 yards from the point of impact and fell. I was ecstatic when I realized I shot a dandy buck!”

Ryan was born in St. Cloud. He has a younger sister, Lindsey, who attends the College of St. Benedict. “She swam and played volleyball in high school, but doesn’t play either at St. Ben’s,” Ryan said.

He attended Cathedral High in St. Cloud, playing basketball and baseball as well as football. On the diamond, Ryan was an outfielder. He played on the freshman team as a ninth-grader, and was on the JV the next year. He was a reserve player on the varsity his junior year, seeing action in a few games. “After that, I decided baseball wasn’t my thing, and didn’t play my senior year,” he said,

On the basketball court, Ryan played forward. He started on the varsity his sophomore and junior years before assuming the role of sixth man as a senior. The Crusaders won about half their games each year and were eliminated in the first round of Section play. “I didn’t score much,” he said.”Defense was my strong point.”

Ryan was a four-year starter at linebacker for Cathedral. He moved into the starting lineup midway through his freshman season, and was named All-Conference Honorable Mention that season. He garnered All-Conference honors and he was team Most Valuable Player his sophomore, junior and senior years. Ryan was named to the All-Section team his junior and senior years. Even though CHS lost in the first round of the playoffs each year, the St. Cloud Daily Times named Ryan to its All-Area Team as a junior and as a senior and he was All-Area Honorable Mention as a sophomore.

He was recruited by most of the schools in the area, including the University of Minnesota, which offered him the chance to walk on. He also was pursued by and considered attending Division II schools St. Cloud State and Bemidji State. Ryan also looked at Augsburg and Saint John’s. He ultimately decided on SJU. “I love the coaches here, and felt comfortable with the place and the people here,” he said. “The first Saint John’s game I saw was when they played Augsburg when I was here on a recruiting visit. The big crowd was a factor in my choice, too.”

floated rightBy the fourth game of his freshman year, Ryan had taken over as one of the starting inside linebackers for SJU. It is unusual for freshmen to start anywhere in the MIAC, but it is virtually unheard of at Saint John’s, yet Ryan not only started but quickly became one of the leaders on the field. He ended the season with 54 tackles, 28 of which were solo, ranking sixth on the team. He helped the Johnnies to a 7-1 finish in MIAC play, tying with Bethel for the league championship. The Johnnies advanced to the NCAA Division III playoffs. They beat Central (IA) 21-13 in the opening round and topped Whitworth 21-3 before losing to UW-Whitewater 17-14 in the West Region final. The Johnnies ended the season 11-2.

The next year, SJU finished 7-1 in league play, taking second behind Bethel. Ryan was among the league leaders in tackles and was named All-MIAC First Team. Saint John’s was given an at-large berth in the NCAA playoffs, but they lost to Central, 37-7, in the first round, to finish 10-2. Ryan was SJU’s second leading tackler with 81, including 35 unassisted. He added a pair of sacks, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery to his impressive stat line.

Last fall, Ryan helped lead the Johnnies to the MIAC title. They advanced to the NCAA playoffs, but lost 37-7 to UW-Whitewater in the first round, closing the year 8-3. Ryan was second in the league in tackles (85), garnering All-MIAC First Team honors. He was also honored by d3football.com, which named him All-West Region Third Team. Ryan led the Jays with 110 tackles, of which 49 were unassisted. He also had two forced fumbles, a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery.

Before this season, Lindy’s magazine named Ryan to its preseason All-American Second Team. He leads the team with 39 tackles, helping the Johnnies to a 5-0 record. SJU is 3-0 in MIAC play, sharing the league lead with St. Thomas.

“Ryan is the ideal type of student-athlete we hope to attract,” said SJU head coach John Gagliardi. “Everything about him is a model of excellence. He is from a local, great family, as home is 15 miles away. He is an excellent student, an avid fisherman and hunter. A four-year starter at linebacker, Ryan is a leader on and off the field, and he is everything we could ask for.”

Away from the field, Ryan is an Environmental Studies major with a minor in Management. He sports a 3.40 GPA and will graduate in May. He is considering graduate school or furthering his education, possibly pursuing a second bachelor’s degree. He eventually plans to work in something related to hunting/fishing and the outdoors.

His experiences at Saint John’s have made college everything Ryan hoped it could be. “I like it here, because it fits the way I live,” he said. “It’s small and low-keyed. I’ve made friends with a lot of similar guys here and have gotten a good education, and had the chance to play football at a championship level.”

[The photos are courtesy of the Saint John’s University Sports Information office.]

The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) is widely respected as one of the premier conferences in nearly every sport competed in Division III. Year after year, the MIAC produces teams and individual student-athletes who excel in their given sport. At the same time, the MIAC schools maintain a reputation of commitment to academic excellence. This article is one in a series of spotlights on some of the young men and women who represent the league’s commitment to excellence, both in the classroom and athletics during the 2008-09 academic year.

This feature will be included in the “Profiles of Excellence 2009-2010″ book which will be available for order at RDM Publishing. It will feature profiles of student-athletes from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, written by CSN’s “Mapping the MIAC” columnist Rich Mies.