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Jake Ryan cherishes UM career as he embarks on NFL journey

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Former UM linebacker Jake Ryan signs autographs at the M Den Saturday. He is projected to go in the fourth or fifth round of the NFL draft.

Ann Arbor — Linebacker Jake Ryan was a constant for the Michigan Wolverines during his career, particularly the last two seasons.

Even when he missed the first part of the 2013 season while recovering from knee ligament surgery, Ryan's role as a leader was unmistaken. He was voted a captain by his teammates before his junior season and was named a captain following his final year last season.

Ryan is now preparing for what he calls his next book, a career in the NFL, and is training at Michigan with former Wolverines Denard Robinson and Jordan Kovacs. The three-day draft begins April 30.

"It was one of the greatest experiences of my life," Ryan said after signing autographs at the M Den on State Street on Saturday afternoon. "Just meeting so many great people, so many people who have done it (played football at Michigan) before you and getting to know them and their stories. It was awesome.

"Once you have that M ring and you graduate, it's really a dream come true. It's something you worked hard for, for four, five years."

His career ended without a trip to a bowl game after the Wolverines finished 5-7 last fall and coach Brady Hoke was fired after four seasons. Each week during the season it seemed the Wolverines were dealing with different issues not entirely related to their play.

"It was tough the last year, a lot of off-the-field distractions, but as a team we got through it," said Ryan, who graduated in December "We didn't win the Big Ten championship, didn't reach our goal, but as a team, you learn a lot of things. You learn a lot from losing and not winning."

Jake Ryan, right, made 267 tackles during his Michigan career.

He is staying in shape at Michigan in what is now a striped-down weight room, void of the slogans and messages Hoke and his weight staff used to have on the walls. Ryan praised new strength and conditioning director Kevin Tolbert, who was popular with Michigan players when he was an assistant under Mike Gittleson before leaving the program after 2007 when former coach Lloyd Carr retired.

"He's a good guy, knows what he's doing," Ryan said of Tolbert. "Trust me."

Ryan said he's in his best shape and has taken some visits to NFL teams but will not divulge those organizations. Naturally, he said it would be a dream to be drafted and has no preference where he ends up playing.

"Anyone who will take me," Ryan said.

He ran a 4.65 40-yard dash at the combine and benched 225 pounds 20 times. His biggest attribute, though, is an intangible.

"I'm a leader," Ryan said. "I was a two-time captain and hopefully I can do the same thing I did here for them."

While Ryan has always

Instead, he simply wants to enjoy the process these final few weeks before the draft.been an emotional player and a strong leader, has never been one to get rattled. One young fan approaching him for an autograph rattled off one publication's draft prediction for Ryan, and he shrugged it off. He has not paid attention to projections and doesn't intend to start now.

"You go through it once — it's one time in your life," Ryan said. "Just meeting so many different coaches, so many guys you've trained with. You create relationships with them. Just the whole experience has been awesome."

Since he's been at Schembechler Hall, Michigan's football building, working out, Ryan has had a chance to meet and converse with new coach Jim Harbaugh.

"Really good guy," Ryan said. "He'll do great with the team. I know the guys are going to do well, and the guys love him."

Ryan isn't planning a draft viewing party or anything too involved. He plans to be at home in Westlake, Ohio, with his family.

"I'll just hang with them," Ryan said, smiling. "They're the ones that got me here, so why not? We'll just hang out."