PHILADELPHIA -- For a moment, ponder the predicament of John Ryan.
Ryan, a senior quarterback at the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, plays in the shadow of two older brothers.
The eldest, Michael, is in his first year as a Penn Charter assistant coach. The job gives him the opportunity to bark instructions at his younger brother, as he did during summer training camp. The middle brother is Matt. You may have heard of him. He's currently busy serving a dual role as the Atlanta Falcons' starting quarterback and city savior, making memories of Michael Vick dissolve faster than the opposing defense's coverage on one of his airtight spirals.
Ryan grew up watching his oldest brother, Michael, excel as a two-year starting signal caller at suburban power Malvern Prep (one of Penn Charter's biggest rivals). Shortly thereafter, their other brother, Matt, stepped in under center at Penn Charter and eventually led the Quakers to an Inter-Ac league title his senior year before moving on to play at Boston College. All Matt did at BC was set the school record for career completions and finish with a 25-7 record as a starter.
Facing not one but two tough acts in a family of football excellence has to be daunting, right?
Not so, according to the youngest Ryan sibling.
"I don't really feel any pressure," said John, whose once-promising senior campaign ended after two games, when a big hit shattered his collarbone. "I can still talk football every day with Michael as a coach on my team, and I'm very close with Matt. He's an unbelievable football player and I'm so proud of what he's accomplishing. They taught me so much about how to play the game of football. I never stop chasing them around."
Instead of sibling rivalry, the Ryan family insists football has only continued to bring them closer together as the boys have gotten older.
"For us, football has always been an integral thread in how we've remained close," said Mike Ryan, the family's proud patriarch. "Kids do grow up, but now we can all hop on a plane every weekend and watch Matt play, or go to see our two other boys at Penn Charter games. We're very fortunate in that respect."
And football prominence in this family doesn't stop with the Ryan brothers.
When John was lost for the season, the offense was inherited by sophomore John Loughery, who happens to be the Ryan brothers' first cousin. Loughery's father, also named John, starred as Penn Charter's quarterback (class of 1978) and was Doug Flutie's predecessor at Boston College.
And even though John Ryan hasn't played a down since early September, Mike and his wife, Bernie, still attend every Penn Charter game to show support for their nephew. And the elder John Loughery fondly recalls a story from after the Falcons' Sept. 28 loss at Carolina, when one of Matt's old high school teammates, who now attends Duke University, visited his old friend outside the Falcons' locker room.
"Here Matt was after just having played in an NFL game, and the first thing he says is, 'Do you remember that game against Malvern senior year?'" Matt's uncle said. "It was like they were two kids back in high school again. He's still grounded and hasn't changed at all, and his parents deserve a ton of credit for how they raised those boys."
"You could always sense the closeness [of the family]," said former Penn Charter head coach and current assistant Brian McCloskey, who coached both Matt and John Ryan. "When Matt was playing here, John and Michael were always around. If you know that family, and I've got a real good sense of who they are, they're just outstanding people."
According to Michael Ryan, they are just like any other normal family with one very distinct detail in common.
"Matt and I are pretty close in age, so we always competed against each other in the backyard growing up," the eldest brother said. "And John followed us to every game we played, so we have a lot in common just like any other brothers do. They're my two best friends, and we share a pretty unique and special bond as quarterbacks."
Apparently, that brotherly love has rubbed off on John Ryan and John Loughery. The two ride to and from school together, and John Ryan is in his cousin's ear on the sideline during games, passing on knowledge he accrued in his 15 career starts at Penn Charter. It appears to be working, as John Loughery showed tremendous poise in leading a young Quakers team to a surprising 20-13 win over league rival Chestnut Hill Academy on Oct. 18.
"I was looking forward to a great senior year, but people get hurt every day in football," John Ryan said. "The way I look at it is I'm still a captain on the team and I look for ways to contribute. My role may be different, but I still feel that I can help. It's been fun watching my cousin grow throughout the year and it's been a special experience for me to be able to help him along the way."
Added Loughery: "I don't have any siblings, so John's been like an older brother to me. We spend a lot of time together and I enjoy every minute of it. He's been a great role model."
While John Ryan's high school career may have been prematurely cut short, his playing days are far from over. He's decided to attend college and play football at Brown University, choosing the strong academics of the Ivy League over the rigorous ACC competition his brother was privy to at BC.
"One thing I always tell John is that he'll always be able to trump Matt with an Ivy League education," his father said with a laugh. "He's tremendously excited about Brown. Ivy League football is great competition, and when he's done he can go be president or whatever he wants to be."
President and NFL star quarterback in the same family? Not a bad predicament to be in if you're John Ryan.
"It's all worked out perfectly," he said.
Ed Morrone is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.