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The Scarlet & Black

Athlete Spotlight: Ryan Slager tackles football and Grinnell

Ryan Slager at practice late this fall. Slager has been a nationally ranked tackler and defensive force for three years. Photo by Mahira Faran.
Ryan Slager at practice late this fall. Slager has been a nationally ranked tackler and defensive force for three years. Photo by Mahira Faran.

For the Pioneers, football season is coming to a close this Saturday with their final game against Beloit College on Rosenbloom Field. After a season that included the team’s first win in almost two years against Trinity Bible, players are looking forward to an offseason full of resting, conditioning and focusing on academics. However, Ryan Slager ’19 is on a different mission this weekend: he’s taking time to reflect on his past seasons.

“Looking back on last year, I feel like we’re definitely playing more as a team this year. [Therefore], I hope to get that W against Beloit. We have been struggling all year so it’s nice to get a W. I always want to see improvements in everyone,” Slager said.

Slager is an incredible talent, having recorded a total of 154 tackles last season while averaging 15.4 tackles per game, which is the third-highest for a season in Pioneer history. At that point, he led the nation in tackles across Division III and was seventh all-time at Grinnell. Now, at the end of his third season, Slager has put himself in yet another chance to make history. He’s made 141 tackles so far this season, bringing his career total to 429, only four shy of the all-time leading tackler at Grinnell — Lee Kraemer ’92. Slager still has a game this weekend and all of next fall to go.

In reflecting on having some of the best stats among all linebackers nationwide, Slager expresses enthusiasm but at the same time doesn’t forget to credit his teammates — the people who make the tackles possible in the first place.

“It’s definitely a team effort. I obviously can’t get tackles if the D-line isn’t blocking anybody, or if the outside corners don’t scare the guys into me. It’s a little bit of my part too, but to make the tackles time and time, [I owe a lot] to the D-line,” he said.

Looking forward to the next season, Slager is confident that he’s going to break some records and end his college student athlete career on a high note. Also, like many of his peers, the economics major has already started thinking about his life beyond Grinnell.

“I don’t think next season will be my last season with football. I’m [thinking of getting] some football experience outside Grinnell. I want to pursue something involved with the NFL, or maybe something in finance, marketing or economics,” Slager said.

Born into a family of four in Orland Park, IL, a suburb just outside of Chicago, Slager has been playing football ever since he can remember. Slager’s family always encouraged him to pursue the sport. Believe it or not, while he enjoyed some success in high school, he has never been in the spotlight this much until now.

“I did make a lot of tackles in high school, but I wasn’t really the superstar of the team. So I didn’t get that stardom,” Slager laughs. “You know, defense wins game but offense gets the fame and glory.”

But now even with his success, the linebacker leads a life not unlike most other Grinnellians. Off the field, he often goes fishing with his teammates or spends time catching up on homework and readings. On the field, football is everything to Slager. He, in Slager’s own words, fell in love with the game the moment he touched the ball at the age of seven.

“[To me], football is the only legal time to hit somebody in public,” Slager laughed. “It’s what I do, it’s like my job, it has been pretty much my life. During high school, I did many other sports but football is definitely always the focus.”

Like all student athletes, there are times where Slager faces challenges — an injury or personal matters that test his love for the sport. At the end, however, Slager has for himself a very practical solution.

“Of course you never expect for stuff like that to happen to anybody. But we all [have to] think about that sometimes, at least I do a little bit. That’s why I’m [also] trying my best for the Grinnell degree, so when I’m too old or beaten up, I still have a career to support myself.”

And to do that, Slager plans, like with all challenges in life, to take it one play at a time.

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