Saskatchewan punter Jon Ryan may be out for the rest of the Riders season with a busted ankle, but it’s safe to say his status as a hometown hero won’t be taking a hit any time soon.
On Sunday, the former Super Bowl champion, along with his mother and brother, announced a record-setting $200,000 donation to the University of Regina Rams for the establishment of a scholarship in honour of his late father. It is the single largest scholarship gift ever given to the team.
Jon’s father Bob Ryan was a University of Regina alumni who graduated with a Masters of Arts in Psychology. He passed away in 2006 at the age of 54 after a short battle with cancer. Now, the Bob Ryan Memorial Scholarship will annually provide five student-athletes with an award of $2,000 each, in keeping with his legacy of community involvement.
“It’s a really big deal for my family, obviously my father made a huge impact on this community, he loved the Regina Rams. My brother (Steve) and I both played. We had a goal set out to start this scholarship fund, we’ve been raising money for a number of years, its’ pretty important to us to give back,” Ryan told CTV after the announcement.
Steve Ryan was a defensive back and punt returner with the Rams from 2003 to 2007, while older brother Jon suited up as a wide receiver and punter from 2000 to 2003. While both benefitted greatly from their university football experience, it was the elder who used it as a launching point for an impressive career.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers originally selected Ryan in the third round, 24th overall during the 2004 CFL Draft. Ryan handled the punting duties for two seasons, leading the league with a 50.6-yard average in 2005. NFL teams took notice of Ryan’s strong leg and Green Bay signed him to a contract.
Ryan spent two seasons with the Packers. After that, Ryan moved on to Seattle for 10 seasons, including a Super Bowl championship in 2014 — becoming the first person from Saskatchewan to win an NFL title. He punted 914 times in the NFL for 40,895 yards and a 44.7-yard average with 311 punts inside the 20-yard line.
In 2019, the 39-year-old returned home to Saskatchewan with the intention of wrapping up his career with is beloved Roughriders. He punted 107 times for 5,222 gross yards — a 48.8-yard average — with a long of 77 yards while playing all 18 regular season games for Saskatchewan that year. He was named a West Division all-star for his efforts during the first season with his hometown team, before returning again in 2021. None of it would have been possible without the Rams.
“I’ve taken so much from this community, from this university, from this team, there’s no way I could ever repay that debt, so this scholarship is just one way we can try to make up for some of the things we’ve taken from this great place,” he said.
Ryan earned over $14 million while playing south of the border. His contract for 2021 included a $6,500 signing bonus with $12,000 in housing, $3,000 in travel allowance to go alongside a $67,000 base salary for $88,500 in hard money.
As a youngster at the U of R, his financial realities were very different and Ryan hopes the record-setting donation with help ease the worries of a few players.
“Being a student-athlete, we didn’t always have time to work. You’d go from school to football, and there just wasn’t time,” he recalled. “Money was always tight. So a little bit of money to help these players out is going to go a long way. I know what it’s like.”