Cover story | Ryan Shazier

Linebacker Ryan Shazier shares a special bond with his dad

The Rev. Vernon Shazier has offered both wise counsel and spiritual guidance to his son

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Kyle Robertson | Dispatch
Ryan Shazier against California this season

Ryan Shazier was about to transition from middle school to high school, so his father, the Rev. Vernon Shazier, felt it was time for them to take a ride through the Florida countryside.

“We got in my truck and drove for a couple of hours, and I told him everything he would pretty much encounter in high school, because I have lived life and I coached high-school football,” Vernon Shazier said. “And he did, he experienced it all, and he had to mature and deal with it.

“I started emphasizing three things to him, and he has gravitated toward those principles. And that’s faith, integrity and discipline. Those are what we try to live by, and that’s what is tattooed on one of his arms. He has embraced the challenge, and it is a challenge, but he has tried to live by them.”

As Ryan, a blue-chip linebacker prospect from Pompano Beach, Fla., prepped to enroll early at Ohio State in January 2011, he and his father again had a talk, this time in the comfort of their home.

“I told him, ‘You are moving to a new phase of adulthood, our relationship is getting ready to transition, and so my role now will be to give you guidance and let you borrow wisdom, but that’s something you have to choose to do,’” Vernon said.

Ryan opted in.

“My dad has always been my light, and he has always been the guy to tell me what I should do, what I need to do better, what to watch for, things like that,” said Ryan, now a junior at OSU.

Ryan admits to perhaps having an “OK, whatever” attitude during those talks with his father. But, he noted, “as I got older everything became a lot clearer. Now I call my dad almost every day, because he can help me deal with pretty much anything.”

In addition to being a mentor to his son, Vernon Shazier also is pastor at Mount Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a team chaplain for the Miami Dolphins and a motivational speaker. But he also has made sure to be there for his sons, including Ryan’s younger brother Vernon, 16.

If he can’t be there physically, then the phone will have to do.

“I’m really proud of Ryan, and it makes me feel good as a father for how often he consults with me and borrows wisdom,” Vernon said. “We sometimes talk two, three times a day.”

The “things” Vernon Shazier spoke of fall roughly into three categories: “You’re talking about football,” he said. “You’re talking about academics, and then you’re talking about adulthood and the responsibilities that come with that, and also the temptations that come with that.”

From a football standpoint, “One of the main things I’ve talked with him about is seize the moment. I coached high school for 12 years, I work with the Dolphins, and I’ve seen so many kids who have had Ryan’s type of talent and skills, they go to college and they disqualify themselves because of a multitude of reasons. I see guys on the NFL level do the same.

“So from an athletic standpoint, I told Ryan to seize the moment and take advantage of the opportunities he is going to have, and understand that it’s a journey.”

From an academic standpoint, “It’s simply to get what he needs from Ohio State, which is a degree. That’s an awesome piece of paper to hang on your wall, and it’s one of the great institutions in the country when you start talking about the alumni family you’ll be a part of. I travel all around the country, and there are Buckeyes everywhere.”

And from an adulthood standpoint, “We continue to just lean on those three words: faith, intergrity and discipline. I tell him ‘I’ve been down every road you want to go down,’ and when we talk he borrows that wisdom.”

To that end, Ryan said he tries to maintain regular church attendance in Columbus at New Salem Baptist Church. He is likely to be there on Sunday morning, even if it will be just hours after tonight’s Big Ten opener with Wisconsin in Ohio Stadium.

“I feel like I play better, and that I have a better lifestyle, when I go to church, because it’s part of being close to God,” he said. “When sometimes I’m not going regularly, I sometimes feel like everything is not going as well as I really want it to go.”

There is little doubt that Ryan has been influenced by a father who is a pastor. Not every father has that sort of relationship with his son, and vice versa. One could call them lucky.

“I prefer to use the word blessed,” Vernon said. “I believe God’s hand is in all of this, that His favor is on us.

“What’s exciting to me is Ryan now understands it’s unqiue, and it’s the same with my younger son,” Vernon said. “Me and their mother have told them for years, ‘You guys are a minority, because very few kids have the relationships you have with your parents.’ They have games, and often some of their teammates don’t have parents there, very few have a father there.”

That last part hits home hard with Vernon. His father was never around. His mother raised him, his two brothers and sister.

He and his brothers were very good athletes, he said, but with the family struggling financially, he opted to go to the military right out of high school rather than play college sports.

Vernon said he was able to fill some of that sports void by later becoming a football coach. He’s fulfilling the rest vicariously, something that struck him years ago, he said, as he watched Ryan playing football one night and his younger son playing the next.

“I was sitting in a chair on the sideline, and the joy just overcame me,” Vernon said. “I played, basketball, football, baseball and ran track, and my dad never saw me play one sport.

“So as I sat there, it dawned on me how blessed I truly am to be able to watch my boys, and I started laughing and crying at the same time.”

Way back when, he said, he had gained insight on the world from his older brother, who had learned his lessons in the locker rooms and on the streets, “so you know what that was like.” Vernon was determined that would not be the case for his two sons.

“Life for every kid is like a scary roller coaster ride,” he said. “But it makes a difference when your father is in the cart with you.”

And Ryan said, “He is.”

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports

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