Ryan Saul: More Than a Great Soccer Player

first_imgRyan Saul made local headlines recently when he signed his letter of intent to play Division 1 college soccer at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. A standout defender on two South Jersey Group III championship teams and another team that made it to the South Jersey final, Ryan achieved one of his main goals in the sport when he signed with the Minutemen.“When I started out playing in high school I wanted to earn a spot on the Ocean City varsity and to work hard enough that I would someday play Division 1 soccer. I worked and kept working and worked some more.  It’s a cliché but it’s true.  Hard work does pay off.”To attract the attention of a major college program (Umass plays in the Atlantic 10 Conference) and to sign with the Minutemen, it’s obvious that Ryan Saul is a very good soccer player. But that is just one aspect.  While some assume he receive an athletic scholarship, Saul actually receive merit-based academic financial aid.Ryan ranks in the top 10 percent of his class academically and is a consistent name on the school’s distinguished honor roll. He is also active as a volunteer puppy raiser for the Seeing Eye organization, and he helps teach baseball and soccer in the Upper Township Challenger Sports program, which provides sports outlets for youngsters with disabilities.Ryan’s parents Steve and Katie Saul are justifiably proud of their eldest son (they have two other boys, Michael, a 16-year-old junior; and Kyle a 15-year-old freshman) and they feel he has earned all of his accolades.“Everything he has achieved, he has worked hard to attain,” said Katie, a Umass grad herself. “Some of the other parents have said he is a positive role model for their kids, and they ask me what my secret is.  Honestly, I don’t have one. It’s all on Ryan.  I think the key has been that Ryan always chose to make good decisions.”As a volunteer puppy raiser, Ryan and his brothers provide a loving environment for dogs provided by the Seeing Eye organization. They raise the dogs as they would any other puppy, with a concentration on socialization and being around other animals and people. But after a year to 18 months, the dogs are taken out of their homes and for advanced training. If they make the cut, they are then assigned to assist a blind person.The Sauls are currently raising their fourth dog, Oscar. The first two, Carmen and Ozzie, were assigned to clients in Texas and Massachusetts, respectively.  Their third dog, Aztec, is currently in the training phase.  “I have no doubt in my mind he is going to make it,” Ryan said.“When I first became involved in the program I didn’t know how I was going to handle giving up the dog. But the more I learned what the organization is all about, I realized that yes, there is going to be pain when you have to say goodbye, but there is a higher purpose and you are helping to be a part of that.”Ryan also has enjoyed his work with the Challengers program. “It makes you see how fortunate you are, and it really makes you feel great to give some coaching advice to a kid and help put a smile on their face.”Not that life has always been perfect for the 6-foot-3 senior. As a freshman, Ryan sat on the jayvee team bench for long stretches and admitted that “I had a pity party for a while.  But then I decided it was up to me if I wanted things to change.  I decided I was going to practice so hard that the coaches wouldn’t have any choice but to notice me.”That’s exactly what happened as Saul played a key role a sophomore and junior as the Raiders captured South Jersey crowns. This year the expectations were high, but things didn’t work out exactly as planned.“We had some injuries and really got off to a slow start. But when the playoffs rolled around we kicked it up another notch, came together as a team and it might have been the most fun I’ve ever had playing soccer.”He was named boys’ soccer player of the year in 2015 by The Press of Atlantic City.The Raiders, who finished the year 8-8-2 in the regular season, earned their third straight trip to the title game with overtime wins over Cherry Hill West and Delsea before finally bowing 2-1 to Toms River South. “We had a never-say-die attitude, especially in the overtimes and that is something that will always stay with me,” he said.Moving forward, he hopes to use the same attitude as he tackles soccer and academics at the next level. He plans on taking a political science major and will take the soccer part as it comes. “I will just pretty much give it my all and see where it takes me,” he said.People talk about work ethic but until you really put the work in and see the results you don’t really get it. Now I know that if you keep focused and working toward your goal you can accomplish almost anything you set out to do.”last_img

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