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Camden’s Ayers brings complete package with him to The Citadel

Posted: February 14, 2018 1:29 p.m.
Updated: February 16, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

RYLAND AYERS SIGNED a National Letter of Intent to continue his academic and football-playing pursuits at The Citadel while flanked by his mother, Kristy Ayers and Ron Kirby. Standing are, from left, Bunk Heffner, Casey Mills, Brian Chivers, Tabari Lee and CHS head football coach Brian Rimph.

Before Ryland Ayers signed his National Letter of Intent to continue his academic and football-playing days at The Citadel, Camden High head football coach Brian Rimph extolled the virtues of his former senior defensive back.

In his introduction of Ayers to those in attendance inside the Camden High library for the occasion, Rimph may have been sending a thinly veiled message to student-athletes who sometimes tend to forget about the student part of the equation. For Ayers, whose final decision came down to making a choice between The Citadel and Wofford, his grades appealed to coaching staffs at those and other schools which recruited the three-year Bulldog starter.

With a grade point average (GPA) of better than 3.0, Ayers is a young man who gets the job done in the classroom as well as on the gridiron.

“It transfers for Ryland,” said Rimph of Ayers’ work in both areas. “He had a 3.5 GPA when we first got here and saw that when we started looking up players and where they stood academically.

“His GPA really transfers to the field. You didn’t have to tell him too many times to do something because he picked it up quick. Especially at the college level where everything happens so fast and those coaches demand so much, it’s really going to play to his favor and be a benefit to him as he tries to learn a whole new system over the next few months and tries to get on the field.

“It transfers for him. That’s something that we tried to take advantage of here and that’s something the coaches at The Citadel will really enjoy about Ryland.”

For his part, Ayers said he sees a correlation between the way he approaches his class work and that of trying to become the best football player he can be.

“It carries over a lot,” said Ayers, who was brought up to the Camden varsity as a freshman and stayed there. “When you’re in the classroom, studying and doing your work, it’s the same thing as on the field. You have to study it and do it so that it works.”

Unlike some high school students who will shun The Citadel and the demands the military institution makes on its student body, Ayers said he looks forward to being part of the tradition which comes with the territory in Charleston.

“I like the atmosphere there. I like how you have to have a great attention to detail with shoe-shining, formations and things like that,” he said. “I feel like it’s a great place for me to help me work on some stuff. It’s going to be fun.”

Ayers was being wooed by Wofford and at one point, the Terriers looked like they may be the frontrunner. Then, he received a call from a member of The Citadel football staff. “I got the phone call and then, it was like, ‘Yeah. This is where I’m going,’” he said with a smile.

The Citadel is expected to give the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Ayers a look at cornerback but he has shown that he is versatile enough to play on offense and special teams, as well. This past season, Ayers saw action at cornerback, as a wide receiver and a punt and kick returner for the Bulldogs.

“They seem to like Ryland as a defensive back and they are going to try him at corner first,” said Rimph, who will enter his second year on the Camden sidelines in 2018. “He’s the type of kid who can move to safety, if needed. But all those schools have to fill corner spots first. That’s where you go first and they will see how it works out after that.”

In his first season at the Bulldog helm, Rimph took advantage of Ayers’ skill set after he played strictly as a cornerback in his sophomore and junior varsity seasons in which he had a pair of interceptions in each season including returning one for a 75-yard pick six as a junior.

This past season, Ayers made 47 tackles (with 24 solos), broke up 11 passes and picked off one. On offense, he caught four passes, ran the ball eight times, averaged better than 17 yards per punt return and 12 yards per kick return in a campaign in which he missed four games with a leg injury.

“It certainly hurt us,” Rimph said of Ayers’ injury and how it affected the Bulldogs. “He had already been a two-year starter and was somebody you could line up at corner and forget that he was there because he did his job. Then, you could worry about everybody else. 

“Not having him on defense really hurt us there and on special teams, too. He had some big returns early in the year that flipped field position and turned the game around for us, in some cases.”

Both Ayers and Rimph said the time away from football made Ayers dig deep to get back and on the playing field while being a lesson learned.

“It was heartbreaking,” Ayers said while thinking back to the injury. “It was one of those things where we were waiting to hear back if I was out for the year or not. I finally got the news that I would be able to play. 

“The actual thought of me not being able to play again was something that really helped me because I knew that if I wanted to play again at the level I was playing at before, that I would have to work. So it taught me how to work and how to really want to get back in the game.”

“I think it was one of those things which will make him better,” Rimph said of the situation. “Ryland had not faced an injury or adversity in his career. In college, that may happen and if it does, he’s already been through it and he knows how to come out on the other side.

“It really showed Ryland’s character when he fought through it and did what he had to do to get back on the field.”

Ayers said he started thinking about being able to play football at the college level following a sophomore year in which he earned a starting spot at cornerback for former head coach Jimmy Neal’s Bulldogs. Ayers recorded 29 tackles and had a pair of interceptions. In 2016, he rang up 52 stops to go along with a pair of interceptions which he returned for a combined 149 yards.

“I ended up starting my sophomore year and by the end of it, I thought, ‘Ryland, you can do this,’” he said of his dream of playing college ball.

Ayers said he believes that playing on both sides of the football as a senior helped him then and will pay dividends at The Citadel.

“It helped me,” he said matter-of-factly. “I got a better understanding of the game itself and game inside the game; Wide receivers why they do things and corners, why we do things to stop (wide receivers.) It just really helped me out.”

Rimph, a former standout offensive tackle at East Carolina who was drafted by and went on to play with the Baltimore Ravens, said Ayers was a high school player who, when he lined up against a receiver, knew that he was better than the player he was guarding. That will not be the case, initially, at The Citadel. 

“At the next level, everybody is good and you have to be ready on a daily basis at practice and, certainly in games where he has to be ready to go against another great player on the other side of the ball,” Rimph said before adding that he believes that Ayers made the right call in his college choice.

The Bulldog boss said the mental angle will be something which Ayers will have to adjust to first once he gets on The Citadel campus.

“With all the things they do early in the mornings, when he walks on the football field he’ll be right there with the rest of the guys,” he said. “Learning the new system, learning new techniques that they’re going to be coaching and meeting new teammates … those things will be the biggest transition for him.

“We think The Citadel is a good spot for Ryland. It is a good school with a lot of extra-curricular activities that they have to maintain while they’re at The Citadel. That’s something he can handle. We’re excited for him.”

Ayers said he is hardly going to The Citadel wearing blinders. He knows what is expected of the students and is eager to join their ranks, along with being a member of the Bulldogs’ football team.

“It’s going to be tough, but I’m down for the challenge. I’m excited about it,” he said. “I never really had senior-it is but after signing those (NLI) papers today, I want to step on campus and I want to play; I want to strap up now. That’s how it is.”


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