When Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans talks about his high-school football days, he doesn’t don rose-colored glasses.
The Alabama native was no slouch on the gridiron, but he readily admits “I had maybe 10, 11 guys who were way better than me.”
Ryans was, however, the best student on his team, and that made all the difference.
Good grades helped earn him a scholarship to the University of Alabama, and the rest is history.
“I didn’t just want to stay on the high-school level,” said Ryans, the first in his family to graduate from a four-year university. “I wanted to excel at bigger and greater things.”
NovaCare Complex ceremony
Ryans shared that story on Tuesday during the 17th Annual Philadelphia Eagles Top Achiever Awards ceremony.
The program recognizes high school football players for their prowess in the classroom.
Bill Davis, the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, and General Manager Howie Roseman were also among those that made remarks inside the NovaCare Complex, the team’s practice facility on South Broad Street, not far from Lincoln Financial Field.
This year, the program honored 108 students, the most-ever.
Each honoree had at least a 3.0 GPA, a requirement for the award.
Several students from Northwest Philadelphia-area high schools made the cut, including players from Roxborough High, Martin Luther King in West Oak Lane and Simon Gratz High in Hunting Park.
5 from Imhotep
The largest contingency came from Imhotep Institute Charter High School in East Germantown – the reigning public league champs who fell one game short of competing for a state title.
Junior Gordon Thomas, a center, was one of five Panthers honored Tuesday.
The West Oak Lane resident said the award doesn’t take the sting out the team’s December loss to the Wyomissing Spartans, but it does help dispel the stereotype that football players are “just jocks.”
“A lot of times, people see football as just being on the field, but I like to see it as the whole spectrum of doing it in the classroom also. And it’s nice to get rewarded for it,” said Thomas, adding that “being smart is often put down” in his neighborhood.
Teammate Nasir Bonner, a sophomore running back, couldn’t agree more.
For him, success in the classroom and on the field is one in the same.
“Without the school work, without the grades, I think football or anything in life is almost impossible,” said Bonner. “If you’re not shooting for high expectations in the classroom, then how can you shoot for high expectations on the field?”
A valuable event
It’s a message that Nick Lincoln, Imhotep’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, strives to instill in the players he works with throughout the year.
Visiting an Eagles facility, he said, reinforces the importance of hitting the books.
“It’s important to have these kids understand that they may have all these desires to play at the next level, but it’s not going to happen unless they handle their business in the classroom,” said Lincoln. “This is a good eye-opener.”
Davis, the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, reminded students that no matter where life takes them, a strong work ethic is invaluable.
“Our NFL players ran the gauntlet to be NFL players,” he said, “but there are many, many avenues in life that you can set as a goal and you still will have that gauntlet to run.”
The Eagles provided a list of all 108 players honored. Those from Northwest Philadelphia area schools are:
Imhotep: Tyrone Barge, Nasir Bonner, Steven Denby, Aaron Ruff and Gordon Thomas
MLK: Aaron Carter
Roxborough: Travonne Hardy
Simon Gratz: Musa D. Al-Sulaimani, Jordan Chambers, Daqwan Freeman, Shawn Jenkins and Calvin Payne.