Former Monona Grove High School athlete Ryan Roberts still remembers the words of his former football coach Mike Stassi, who saw the 5-foot-8, 158-pounder develop into one of the Badger South Conference’s best running backs as a junior and senior.
“He used to always tell me, “Legs feed the wolf, Roberts,” recalled the 2010 graduate. “He was implying as a running back, your legs are everything. Later that year, I found out the meaning of that quote the hard way, when I injured my left knee. I still use and apply that quote today but in other ways. I see it now as a way to pursue my goals.”
Small, but also unstoppable
Roberts’ legs were a major key to the Silver Eagles success in 2008-09 when he rushed for 2,101 yards, scored 25 touchdowns and averaged 7.5 yards per game. In 2009, the Silver Eagles ended 6-0 in the conference and 9-0 overall as Roberts led the team with 1,137 yards on the ground despite missing five games with his knee injury. The team beat Slinger and Cedarburg in the first two rounds of the WIAA playoffs but lost to Waunakee 35-20 to end the season with an 11-1 mark.
Roberts was named All-Badger South Conference first team, but he knows his teammates were also responsible for his accomplishments.
“The main reason for my success on the football field would be the offensive linemen I had. If it wasn’t for Riley Quaerna, Rob Mackesey, Mark Andrews, Merrick Grumke and Austin Barlow, I would have never had the yards I had,” Roberts said.
Despite his diminutive size as a football running back, Roberts said he learned how to make himself a difficult person to tackle by playing the game against his brother, Juston, and other friends who were all larger than him.
“I developed a sense of toughness, drive, competition and determination from an early age,” Roberts said. “I brought all of those traits with me when I started football, even before high school. It was almost as if I had a chip on my shoulder from being told I was always too small to be able to be a running back, and it made me work harder and push harder, to prove everyone and myself wrong.”
Stassi also offered guidance to Roberts on work ethic, not only as a football player for also as a person. Those lessons became more valuable as Roberts entered adulthood.
“He taught me that I have to work to succeed in other ways than just being good at something. There are more ways to ‘show up’ and ‘be good’ at a sport than just being able to play decent,” Roberts said. “There is determination, being on time, being respectful to the team and coaches, and working hard at every aspect of what you strive to do in life, whether it be football or anything else.”
Roberts, who was also on the Monona Grove-Madison Edgewood wrestling co-op and a runner on the track and field team, received offers from some NCAA Division 2 and Division 3, but his knee injury ended any hopes for a college football career.
That’s when he decided to follow the path of his brother and other family member and join the military. He said joining the Army was bigger than continuing to play football in college, and he could participate in something that could make others, including himself, very proud.
He was stationed at the Army airborne unit in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. His three-and-a-half years there provided him with a great education.
“Some of the skills I learned were how to become a better follower, taking more responsibility for my actions, becoming a leader and taking pride in my work,” Roberts said. “I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for my decision, and I am extremely happy with that.”
After leaving the Army in May 2015, Roberts earned his commercial driver’s license and worked for Wisconsin Distributors. He was trying to return to a normal civilian life, but later, signed with the Army Reserves.
He landed a full-time position as a field service representative at PBBS Equipment Corp., a Cottage Grove-based company specializing in the installation and maintenance of boiler systems for industries and large business.
He married his wife, Lauren, and had two children, a boy and a girl.
He also left PBBS and now works for the federal government servicing and repairing military vehicles and equipment.
Grateful for family, friends support
It’s been a long time since Roberts used his legs to gain yardage and score touchdowns for the Monona Grove High School football team. But since then, he has grown as a person by serving his country in the Army, getting married and becoming a father. He is thankful for everyone who helped him deal with the uncertainties of life.
“My dad, mom, brother, uncle and grandparents were all instrumental in helping me make the right decisions throughout my life and supporting me no matter what,” he said. “They have helped push and teach me to be the man, father and husband I am today. My kids and my wife help support me on a daily basis with struggles and goals that I have for my future. I strive to be the best person I can be, and that is all thanks to my strong support system, my family and values they have taught me.”