Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramczyk figured his livelihood would involve wearing a face mask.
And not necessarily one attached to an NFL helmet.
Considered a certain first-round pick in April’s draft, Ramczyk wasn’t always sure he wanted to pursue a professional football career. He almost didn’t even play in college. Ramczyk declined a scholarship offer to the University of Pittsburgh and left Winona State after a short time as a freshman.
This left Ramczyk pursuing another passion that took him to two different technical colleges.
That’s right. Welding.
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"It was what I looked forward to every day (in high school),” Ramczyk told co-host Geoff Schwartz and me on SiriusXM NFL Radio."It was kind of intriguing. I thought it would be cool to do that as a full-time job. That was kind of how it got started.”
Because he temporarily snuffed his gridiron torch, some NFL teams might call into question just how committed he is to playing the game. But the sacrifices Ramczyk made to resume his football pursuits should dispel those potential knocks.
Although talented enough to play at a major program, Ramczyk enrolled to play for his hometown Division III program after stints at Madison Area Technical College and Mid-State (Wis.) Technical College. He even did so without an athletic scholarship to Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
"In that time off, I realized what I had given up,"said Ramczyk, who also had mulled a career in law enforcement coming out of high school. "I’d been competing in different sports my entire life. To be out of that, I felt kind of lost. I missed the game of football and wanted to get back at it."
After dominating the Pointers’ competition for two seasons, Ramczyk wanted a bigger challenge, even if it meant having to follow the NCAA’s transfer rules. He sat out the entire 2015 season before being cleared to play at Wisconsin, where he reunited with Badgers coach Paul Chryst, who had previously recruited Ramczyk (pronounced RAM-check) to Pitt.
The 6-6, 310-pound Ramcyzk looked like he belonged from the start. The 2016 Badgers averaged 203.1 rushing yards a game, and Ramczyk allowed just one sack, per Pro Football Focus.
Schwartz, an offensive lineman for eight NFL seasons before retiring in February, believes Ramczyk and Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson will be the first two linemen drafted.
"Scouts would say he has high upside because he only played one year of college ball,"Schwartz said. "You can spin it any way you want but he’s a good player. He’s physical and he’s athletic."
Like any draft choice —especially one that produces so many offensive line prospects like Wisconsin —there will be NFL teams concerned that Ramczyk will turn out more like Gabe Carimi than Joe Thomas. First, Ramczyk enters the NFL with far less playing experience than others from major college programs after turning pro following his junior season. The fact thatRamcyzk will be 23this upcoming season contributed to his decision to leave early.
Ramczyk said every team he met with last month at the NFL Combine made testing his football IQ “a big part of the process.”
"Every interview I went to there was some board work or they pull up your film and have you walk through what is this play, what’s your job and what’s the rest of the line’s job,"Ramczyk said. "They’ll go through protections and things like that."
Ramczyk’s arm length is 33¾ inches, which is only considered average for left tackles, whomust extend to handle opposing pass rushers (although his hand size of 10 7/8 should mitigate some of those concerns). Ramczyk also might not be cleared to participate in any pre-draft drills while he recoversfrom January hip surgery, which could add to concerns from clubs that he was a "one-hit wonder"at Wisconsin.
"I’ve been talking with my physical therapist as far as whether I can showcase anything,"said Ramczyk, who will be headed to Indianapolis next month along with other injured prospects for a medical re-check. "We’re not sure yet.
"It’s just an injury where you don’t want to push too early and have something bad happen, especially before the draft. I should be cleared to be 100 percent full pads, full practice by May. My film is going to speak a lot for me."
Just the fact Ramczyk has any after his college path speaks well for what he has forged.
Alex Marvez can be heard from 7 p.m. ET to 11 p.m. ET Monday night on SiriusXM NFL Radio.