The 90 Illini #81: Ryan Meed
Can you imagine being your first college football game being the Illinois/Michigan State football game on November 9, 2019? Like, can you even imagine being on the kickoff coverage team with five seconds left and then watching your teammates make the tackle right in front of you and then looking up at the clock and seeing that it hit :00 and ripping off your helmet and celebrating? And THAT'S your first-ever college football game?
That's Ryan Meed's experience.
81. Ryan Meed
Uniform number: 34
Year in school: Redshirt Freshman Walkon (4 years to play 4)
Height: 6'-1" -- Weight: 210 lbs.
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
High School: Canarsie HS
Tom Cruise rating: none - he was a walkon
2019 statistics: played in final four games (Michigan State, Iowa, Northwestern, Cal) on special teams, kept his redshirt, returns as redshirt freshman.
When the coaches notice a walkon at practice, they'll sometimes give him a shot on a coverage team for some Saturday. I think it's a data point that the coaches noticed Ryan Meed at practice but waited until the Michigan State game to give him that shot. That way, he only played four games and could keep his redshirt. The desire to play you but the attempt to redshirt you is just about as good of a sign as the coaches could give you. It roughly translates to "we really think you can help us in a few years".
And that's why kids chase preferred walkon (PWO) offers. They could maybe get a scholarship at an FCS or D-II school, but PWO gives them the FBS football experience with a chance (like Donny Navarro) to grab a scholarship someday. It's a long road - you bring in 10 PWO's, maybe two eventually play and one eventually earns a scholarship - but Clayton Fejedelem used that very road to go from PWO to an NFL player who earned $2.5 million with the Bengals over three seasons and just signed a 3 year, $8.5 million deal with the Dolphins. When Fej cashed that $3 million signing bonus check this spring, he probably felt pretty good about choosing the PWO route.
Going back through a few Meed articles, it looks like he had several PWO offers from Big Ten schools (Rutgers for sure). That's a lot more than your typical "local kid takes a PWO spot at the state school" kind of thing - those are more like on-campus auditions. So his career will be interesting to watch.
There were two PWO's from last year to keep an eye on this season. Bryce Barnes played all 13 games on special teams and has now been moved from tight end to defensive line. That's a very large "we think this kid can help us" signal. And Meed played in the final four games to preserve his redshirt.
Quick aside: I went to check the tape to see if Meed was in fact on the field for that final kickoff coverage against MSU (he was) and I somehow forgot how many walkons were on the coverage units last year. Let me go look again.
Good Lord. We were fourth in kickoff coverage defense (4th out of 130 teams) last season and we did that with walkons Nolan Bernat, Ryan Meed, Sean Coghlan, Christian Bobak, Alec McEachern, and Michael Marchese all part of the kick coverage unit. HOLY CRAP we had more walkons on the field than we had scholarship players. Why have I not been screaming about this for eight months? Hold on I need a quick Twitter burst.
OK, done. So... the outlook for Meed: he found his way onto special teams. Now can he make some noise at linebacker? I think he's more the OLB type, so might he push for some snaps behind Milo Eifler? Maybe Hansen is the starter at MLB and Tolson is the starter at WLB and then Meed is Tolson's backup?
That will be the thing to watch this season. If he does work his way in there, look for him to be a big part of future teams. And perhaps a scholarship linebacker.