WAUNAKEE — After his final high school football game, senior defensive end Reed Ryan walked off the field in Oconomowoc feeling disappointment that Waunakee dropped a 20-13 decision to Brookfield Central in a WIAA Division 2 semifinal.
But he wasn’t sad. He said he saw the bigger picture, savoring the success the Warriors had despite losing so many key players from the previous year’s Division 2 state title team.
“I knew a lot of people were writing us off at the beginning, saying we had graduated everybody,” Ryan said. “But I knew that we had a bunch of guys who just didn’t get their turn yet. … I knew we were going to bring back a really good team.”
The Warriors (12-1) proved that, winning the Badger North Conference and just missing a return trip to the state final.
“It was like an `aha’ moment,” Ryan said. “Wow, this is what it’s all about, just grinding out there with your teammates that you’ve grown up with for a long time, working together and having the flashback memories of working out in the summer together. It was a culmination of everything that you hear, talk about and do.”
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Ryan was an integral part — a dominant and disruptive force on the Warriors’ aggressive defense. He totaled 37 tackles for loss and 18 sacks en route to being named a first-team All-State selection by the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association and The Associated Press and the WFCA Large Schools defensive player of the year.
Ryan’s outstanding defensive performance this season earned the North Dakota State commit recognition as the Wisconsin State Journal/WisconsinPrepZone.com All-Area football player of the year.
“He’s physically a freak,” Waunakee coach Pat Rice said. “He has great technique and a great motor. He’s extremely, extremely, extremely aggressive. I mean physical. He runs, he bends, he has great pad level, great hands. Overall, he’s a great player. You just couldn’t block him. People would try to slide protections and chip and they still couldn’t get it done. He’s the real deal.”
Mount Horeb/Barneveld coach Bret St. Arnauld said preparing for Ryan was extremely difficult.
“He has the ability to beat you in so many different ways — his size, his speed, his length,” St. Arnauld said. “You see him on film and you can tell he’s a player, but when you see him in person it really comes on display. There are just some guys that have that `it’ factor, and you know he is one of those guys who can impact a game on his own.
“He has some of the quickest hands I have seen in a while, he plays the game with remarkable leverage and he always seems to be the low man. His pass rush is relentless, his pursuit is relentless. He is what you would call `the total package.’ ”
Ryan, 17, has been involved in sports — notably football and wrestling — in Waunakee since second grade. He said his mother, Tiffany Ryan, passed away from cancer when he was entering kindergarten and he became more interested in sports after his father, Erin Ryan, remarried a couple years later. He said his father and his stepmother, Stephanie Barganz-Ryan, supported that interest through the years, with Stephanie, in particular, encouraging Reed Ryan.
He grew into his body, became stronger through weightlifting and training, and developed into an acclaimed football player who received about 15 college offers and a wrestler who finished fifth at 220 pounds at last season’s WIAA Division 1 state tournament.
“I’m really pleased with all the Waunakee family has done for me and all I have been able to accomplish through the Waunakee football program, whether it was flag football to playing Friday nights at Warrior Stadium with my teammates,” said Ryan, adding that he was honored by the recognition.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Capitol North Conference champion Lakeside Lutheran made the longest trek in program history through the WIAA playoffs this season, reaching the Division 4 semifinals in its 14th postseason appearance.
The top-seeded Warriors (11-2) defeated Beloit Turner, River Valley and Edgerton in the playoffs before falling on a late touchdown to eventual state champion Racine St. Catherine’s 30-28 in the state semifinal.
Lakeside Lutheran entered with an experienced core and delivered on that promise, led by coach Paul Bauer. For his efforts, Bauer was named the Wisconsin State Journal/WisconsinPrepZone.com All-Area football coach of the year.