The University of Puget Sound has started a freshman at linebacker in its first two games of the season – one who hasn’t played football in six years.
But experience isn’t an issue for 24-year-old Ryan Guzman. He’s been through more the past four years than most ever will.
Two years ago Guzman was in Afghanistan as part of the 82nd Airborne Infantry in the U.S. Army. He spent one long year deployed across the ocean risking his life, watching his closest friends risk their lives and spending days wondering if they would be his last.
“There were some long days,” Guzman said. “Some you can’t believe you made it through. It makes you appreciate what you have, that’s for sure.”
After spending his first two years in the Army at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Guzman was deployed to Afghanistan, where he recounted multiple instances of being shot at, things exploding around him and fighting for his life.
“I remember just laughing at some of it,” Guzman said. “Like, ‘That guy almost shot me!’ We would just laugh it off.”
Guzman said that fortunately no one in his platoon was shot or injured, but there were definitely days where he wondered how they weren’t.
“There were times when I didn’t think I was going to make it out,” Guzman said.
Guzman graduated in 2006 from Douglas High School in Nevada, where he was an all-league linebacker his senior year. But at 150 pounds, not many colleges were looking to recruit him.
He eventually joined the Army, and he worked out everyday, bulked up, and now weighs close to 210 pounds. Guzman reached out to UPS coach Jeff Thomas about joining the Loggers once he finished his tour.
Thomas said that though the Loggers are young, Guzman adds experience that few other incoming freshmen can bring.
“He adds so much legitimacy and maturity to a pretty young football team,” Thomas said. “He is exactly what every program wants: a really hard-working guy, a task-driven guy, that is really good at football too.”
Guzman’s first two games were anything but pretty. He found out how easy it is to collect rust when you wait six years to play your next football game, and was part of a Loggers defense that allowed a combined 85 points the first two games.
Now, UPS prepares for its home opener against Whittier today still looking for its first win. But Guzman is more than appreciative of the chance to play collegiate football after what he went through in Afghanistan, although he said he didn’t come to UPS just to be able to say he played college football.
“I want to win,” Guzman said. “I want to enjoy it. I have a second chance to play football. But I didn’t come just to play, I want to win.”
Among the many things Guzman learned with the 82nd Airborne Infantry was how to appreciate life’s opportunities, how not to take things such as football for granted and how short life can be.
By the time Guzman is a senior at UPS, he’ll be a decade older than some of the players he is trying to tackle. He hopes to have a job in federal law enforcement after graduating.
For now he is living a dream. One he says he is not only doing for himself, but also for those he fought alongside.
“I realize my story is a little different, but I don’t consider myself any different,” Guzman said. “There are guys who have sacrificed a lot more than I have; guys who have done so much more and guys who have given their lives. I am just so grateful because there are a lot of guys who don’t get the opportunity to do what I am doing now.”
WHITTIER COLLEGE (0-1) AT PUGET SOUND (0-2)
1 p.m., Baker Stadium, Tacoma
The Series: Whittier leads, 5-1. The Poets have won the past three meetings, including a 66-48 win last season in California. UPS’s last victory came on the road in 2006.
What to watch: Like a little offense for your Saturday afternoon? This is the ideal place to watch two prolific teams go at it. In 2010, the schools combined for 942 yards in the Poets’ 42-39 win in Tacoma. Last season, they went for a total of 1,075. And because former offensive coordinator Todd Stratton is now Whittier’s interim coach – the school’s third in three seasons – expect much of the same with QB Chris Lopez (320 passing yards, five TDs against Whitworth) and WRs Kimble Tillman (six receptions, 101 yards, TD) and Dameron Fooks (five receptions, 152 yards, three TDs), who are as talented a pass-catching tandem as there is on the West Coast. Speaking of receivers, UPS has a pretty good one, too – one who is about to corral the last of all the school’s meaningful records. Adam Kniffin, a Salem, Ore. product, is 43 yards away from eclipsing Mike Bos’ career receiving mark of 2,312 yards, set in 1982. Two weeks ago, Kniffin set the single-game record of 272 receiving yards against Chapman. In the last three quarters of that 55-35 loss, Kniffin and QB Braden Foley (50-of-94, 688 yards, six TDs, three INT in two games) were nearly unstoppable. Whittier and UPS are both coming off a bye week.
What’s at stake: The Loggers badly need something to get their mojo back heading into the start of Northwest Conference play Sept. 29 against Lewis & Clark in Tacoma.
TNT pick: Whittier, email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/preps