Colgate's Ryan Vena earned the Patriot League Player of the Year award three times in his career from 1996-99, and was named to the quarterback position on the Football 25th Anniversary Team.
Ryan Vena, QB, Colgate (1996-99)
25th Anniversary Team
15th Anniversary Team
1996: First-Team All-Patriot League, Patriot League Player of the Year; ECAC Rookie of the Year
1997: First-Team All-Patriot League, Patriot League Player of the Year
1998: First-Team All-Patriot League
1999: First-Team All-Patriot League, Patriot League Player of the Year
Post-Patriot League: After a successful collegiate career, Vena moved to arena football. He played for six years in the AF2, with the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Pioneers as well as the Albany Conquest. He has also spent four years in the AFL, with the Iowa Barnstormers and the Columbus Destroyers and now as the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Soul.
Reaction to 25th Anniversary Team selection: It's just a great honor. It goes without saying to be selected by the coaches and peers that it's amazing to be on the team. There have been some amazing players, certainly some amazing quarterbacks to come through the Patriot League in the last 25 years. It's just a tribute to my coaching staff and my teammates throughout the time I played at Colgate. I'm very honored.
Q and A
Patriot League: The year before you came to Colgate, the team was 0-11 in 1995. Dick Biddle was hired in 1996, and the program began to improve throughout your four years. What changed for a team that had really been struggling in previous years?
Ryan Vena: I think Coach Biddle was just an intense guy who demanded more out of the players and got the best out of all of us. Initially we struggled my freshman year and started out 0-4. I started in our fifth game and we beat Brown and kind of got on a roll there. There was a feeling like when are we going to win, and when we did it felt so good and we worked harder and it became something that we wanted and needed. It felt great to get those older guys some wins, and it was tough to come so close to a championship my freshman year and fall short but then to win a couple of titles throughout my career was awesome not only for myself but for my teammates.
Patriot League: What initially drew you to Colgate both athletically and academically?
Ryan Vena: Obviously it goes without saying that Colgate's tradition of academics is one of the best in the country. My dad and I were looking at different schools to send out highlight tapes to, because I sent out a bunch and got a lot of responses from a lot of different areas. I took my trip out there and the place was beautiful and the campus was amazing. The athletic facilities were great, and that combined with the academic prowess that Colgate and the Patriot League has was very appealing to me and my father. We narrowed it down between that and a couple of schools and I felt like it was the best spot for us. I was lucky enough to have an offer from them and to go there was a great decision and I thank God everyday that I made that decision.
Patriot League: Three other players from your era - offensive linemen Paul Clasby and Luke George and wide receiver Corey Hill - also made the Patriot League Football 25th Anniversary Team. What made your offense so successful in your years at Colgate?
Ryan Vena: I think those guys were a major part of it. Corey Hill broke every record receiving, and Paul Clasby and Luke George were two anchors on the offensive line who did a great job blocking not just for myself but for some great running backs during my career. It's not just those guys but the rest of our teammates that deserve some kind of credit. Of those three in particular, Corey was just dynamic. He always found a way to get open, had amazing hands and great speed when he needed it. He ran amazing routes and found the end zone. Paul and Luke were just so dynamic and tough up front. They wanted to run the ball and shove it down guys' throats and we had that mentality. When we had to pass block they did a heck of a job as well. To be selected to a team with those three guys is a great honor as well.
Patriot League: Do you have a most memorable game or moment in your four seasons?
Ryan Vena: There are two games that really stick out in my head. The first time we won the League championship my sophomore year against Bucknell when they came up to Colgate undefeated. The year before we had lost to them on the last play of the game when we went for two and they ended up knocking it down for the championship. They came up to us undefeated, and we blew them out 48-14 with an amazing game and we won the championship that we thought we should have won the year before. It was a muddy game, it was one of those old-school weather games that was amazing.
The other game that really sticks out is my senior year when we played Lehigh at home. They were beating us 17-0 at our place, and we came back and got close in the second quarter and the third and ended up taking the lead in the fourth and won that game for the League championship. That was against my head-to-head nemesis Phil Stambaugh who did a great job at quarterback for Lehigh, so that really stands out for me.
Patriot League: What was it like going into the 1999 season after being edged out by Lehigh the year before and entering your senior year with the Patriot League championship in mind?
Ryan Vena: When we won it in 1997, we felt we would go into the next year and keep on rolling. It was kind of a reversal of roles in 1998 when we went into Lehigh and got up 14-0 and they ended up coming back and beating us. Going into 1999 I was a senior and I felt like I had to play my best and we had to beat Lehigh. It came down to knocking those guys off, and we worked our butts off on and off the field. We had some amazing talent, and we had lost some talent with Corey Hill and Luke George and a couple of other guys moving on. We had some holes to fill but the coaching staff did a great job and we worked to get back to that championship game and won it.
Patriot League: You were a three-time Patriot League Player of the Year, what does that mean looking back to do something that only one other person has done in League history?
Ryan Vena: It's pretty cool. I have to give a lot of credit to my coaching staff and teammates, without those guys I wouldn't have done that. It's a great honor from everyone that voted for me, and it's great to get those type of honors. I would have traded them all for a national championship, but it's good to get the honors to recognize how hard I worked and how much I wanted it. But I have to give a lot of credit to all of my teammates because without them I would have never received those awards.
Patriot League: You've played Arena Football for about a decade now. What are some of the differences there and how have you had to adapt and change your game to playing that style?
Ryan Vena: It's a lot quicker game with a lot less space. There are tighter windows to throw the ball to. At first I was just trying to figure out the game and get my quick three and five-step drops down and put the ball in different spots that I hadn't done before. The first year I was kind of learning on the fly and then my second year I really picked it up. I was switching up from the Arena Football League to the AF2, and I went back and forth between those leagues for the middle part of my career. Now I've been fortunate enough to get back in the AFL. The experience is awesome, I love the league and love the game and I wish it got a lot more publicity than it does. I think a lot of people would enjoy it and appreciate it because it is a great brand of football.
Patriot League: After jumping around between the leagues, what did the 2011 season mean to you to start in the AFL for the Philadelphia Soul?
Ryan Vena: It felt pretty good. Early on in the year the playing time kind of jumped around between myself and another quarterback but once I settled down I earned the time for pretty much the rest of the season. The last two years I've started almost every game for teams, and it's just great that God has blessed me to still be out here and doing it at 33 years old. Some people think that may seem old but I feel young and good and I would like to continue playing for a couple of years. If not I hope I'm blessed to move on and choose another route, but I still love football. It's been a part of my life since I was seven years old and I'd like to be a coach or scout one day to stay with it. Being able to play this long has been great and it's been awesome to be able to play for 10 years in this league.
Patriot League: What have been some of the highlights or top moments of your professional career in Arena Football?
Ryan Vena: The first time we won the division when I was in Albany, which I believe was in 2002 and then we won it again in 2003. A little bit further on in my career, my first game I started in the AFL in Columbus was in front of 18,000 people being a big football town which was pretty great. Then in 2007 when I went back to AF2 and played in Wilkes Barre, I was voted the league's player of the year and we went to the championship that year. Unfortunately we lost on the final play of the game but it was still an awesome year for myself to go to the championship and win player of the year. It's been a great career and I'm very pleased with the way things have gone, but I'm still missing that championship ring that everyone tries to get and I think that's kind of why I still play.