Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramczyk travels unusual road to the spotlight

MADISON, Wis. -- A media contingent more than 15 deep waited Saturday afternoon inside Wisconsin's indoor practice facility to talk to an offensive lineman who has yet to play a single snap in a Division I college game. When Ryan Ramczyk finally approached, he almost didn't know what to do.

Ramczyk stared at the group and acknowledged it was the "first time" he had ever spoken to so many people. He drew a breath and then took stock of a winding college path that began with a stint at a technical college and continued with two years of football at his hometown Division III school. Now, it has him positioned as a starting left tackle on one of the most prestigious offensive lines in the country.

Yes, it was all pretty surreal for Ramczyk, a 6-foot-6, 308-pounder from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, whose talents this spring have reached an almost mythical status.

"Growing up, watching football on Saturdays and Sundays, seeing the Badgers, it's always been a dream of mine," he said.

If Ramczyk (pronounced RAM-check) proves to be anywhere near as good as his teammates say, the left side of the Badgers' offensive line will be in good hands for the next two seasons.

"He's a freak, man," Badgers running back Dare Ogunbowale said. "He's a very athletic guy. Even last year, [Joe] Schobert would talk about how Ramczyk was just a beast down on scout team."

Added Wisconsin center Dan Voltz: "I think he's going to shock a lot of people. The kid is naturally a freak athlete. Like one of the most athletic offensive linemen I've ever seen personally. ... Not many people know about him now, but I think that's going to change pretty soon."

Ramczyk's story is far from ordinary. He was a first-team all-state selection as a senior at Stevens Point Area Senior High School in 2011. Current Badgers coach Paul Chryst then left his position as Wisconsin's offensive coordinator to become head coach at the University of Pittsburgh and offered Ramczyk a scholarship. But he didn't want to travel that far from home and declined the offer.

"I think I just didn’t know what I wanted to do right out of high school," Ramczyk said. "I couldn’t make my mind up at the time."

Meanwhile, Wisconsin's staff was in transition -- it had recently lost offensive line coach Bob Bostad -- and Ramczyk said he did not receive any offer from the Badgers. So he signed out of high school to play at Division II Winona State University in Minnesota but never enrolled. He then skipped a year of football and attended Mid-State Technical College in Stevens Point.

"I was probably going to, I don't know, go into welding or something," he said. "Some hands-on career."

With Ramczyk still in his hometown, football coaches at Division III University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point told him if he ever felt like playing the sport again, there would be a spot available on the team. One day, he stopped at head coach Tom Journell's office and told him he was ready to play football once more.

In two seasons at UW-Stevens Point, Ramczyk earned second-team all-conference honors as a freshman and first-team all-league honors as a sophomore. He also rekindled his love for football while completely manhandling his competition. Journell noted he never even allowed a sack.

"People tried to run around him, and you couldn't do that because he's so big," Journell said. "They tried to counter him and he was just so athletic to stay in balance that, 'Nah, I'm not going for that move. I'm just going to hang in here inside and protect my quarterback.' He's special."

When Chryst left Pittsburgh to accept the Wisconsin job in December 2014, Journell knew it was only a matter of time before his star offensive lineman inquired about transferring to Wisconsin. The timing felt right for Ramczyk to move on and play for a program he dreamed about as a kid. A week later, he walked into Journell's office.

"Coach," Ramczyk told him. "I've got to try it."

"He wanted to make sure it was all right," Journell said. "He felt badly about doing that. I said, 'Hey, what are you nuts? I totally understand.' "

Ramczyk, who was forced to sit last year under NCAA transfer rules, acknowledged the speed and strength required to excel at the Division I level surprised him early while on the scout team. But he quickly found his form during fall camp and became a difficult matchup even for members of the Badgers' starting front seven. He picked up technical pointers from left tackle Tyler Marz and learned the Badgers' offensive scheme. Now, he's ready to serve as Marz's replacement.

"It just goes to show you the growth of the individual is as important as the growth of the player," said Badgers offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph. "He worked his tail off last year. He got the most out of every opportunity he had."

Just how dominant can Ramczyk be on a line that has produced so many standouts? The answer remains a mystery. But Ramczyk, like everyone else, is eager to find out.

"I didn't have any big expectations," Ramczyk said. "I just wanted to come in here and work as hard as I could and see where that got me. Hard work paid off and put me in the position I'm in now."