The Ohio State University Buckeyes
Pompano Beach, Florida
Plantation High School
Shazier has heard it all from draft experts to scouts — too "light in the pants," lacks ideal size, looks like a cornerback and not a linebacker, does not have the strength to take on bigger blockers. Well, the pastor's son has proven them all wrong, as he is seeing most of those doubters starting to jump on his draft "bandwagon" as decision day for teams is about to commence.
The Florida product takes it all in as constructive criticism. If you ask him, Shazier will tell you that he is his own worst critic, anyway. Still, growing up in the Sunshine State, he patterned his style of play after another linebacker who heard similar critics tout his deficiencies while at Florida State — former Tampa Bay great, Derrick Brooks. In fact, the man who eventually replaced Brooks as the heart and soul of the Bucs' defense, Lavonte David, is built along the same lines as Shazier and Brooks.
Since becoming a full-time starter for a major powerhouse that regularly faces top-level offenses in the Big Ten Conference, all Shazier has done is record back-to-back 100-plus tackle seasons, averaging 9.92 stops per game. Unlike some linebackers that are regarded as "pile jumpers," padding their statistics with assisted tackles, his 208 solo stops rank sixth in school history, with all of the five players ahead of him having one additional season as a Buckeye under their belt.
Those that say he might not have the strength to defeat offensive linemen need to only look at the way he wreaks havoc in the backfield. As a junior, he made a total of 25 tackles behind the line of scrimmage (20 solos and five assists), getting to the quarterback seven times and causing four turnovers via fumbles caused. His tackle-for-loss figures in 2013 are the third-best by a Buckeye in school history and led the Big Ten Conference while ranking third nationally.
Among active NCAA major college players, Shazier ranks third with an average of 5.36 solo tackles per game (increases to 6.58 per game during his time as a starter). His 208 solo tackles rank seventh within that group and he is ninth with forty solo tackles behind the line of scrimmage. His nine forced fumbles are eighth nationally, as that figure set the school all-time record and rank 10th in league history.
The Ohio State staff credits Shazier's performance on the field and leadership in the locker room for the Buckeyes overcome a "dark season" when they went 6-7 during his freshman season playing mostly in reserve, to a 24-2 record the last two seasons with the Florida product starting at weak-side outside linebacker.
Shazier admits that his maturity and workman-like approach to the game of football was something instilled in his as a youth by his father. The two are extremely close and the player acknowledges that, "I call my dad almost every day, because he can help me deal with pretty much anything."
In addition to being a mentor to his son, Vernon Shazier also is pastor at Mount Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a team chaplain for the Miami Dolphins and a motivational speaker. A former football coach, he also has made sure to be there for his sons, including Ryan's younger brother Vernon. If he can't be there physically, then the phone will have to do.
"I'm really proud of Ryan, and it makes me feel good as a father for how often he consults with me and borrows wisdom," Vernon said. "We sometimes talk two, three times a day."
The "things" Vernon Shazier spoke of fall roughly into three categories: "You're talking about football," he said. "You're talking about academics, and then you're talking about adulthood and the responsibilities that come with that, and also the temptations that come with that."
From a football standpoint, "One of the main things I've talked with him about is seize the moment. I coached high school for 12 years, I work with the Dolphins, and I've seen so many kids who have had Ryan's type of talent and skills, they go to college and they disqualify themselves because of a multitude of reasons. I see guys on the NFL level do the same.
"So from an athletic standpoint, I told Ryan to seize the moment and take advantage of the opportunities he is going to have, and understand that it's a journey." From an academic standpoint, "It's simply to get what he needs from Ohio State, which is a degree. That's an awesome piece of paper to hang on your wall, and it's one of the great institutions in the country when you start talking about the alumni family you'll be a part of. I travel all around the country, and there are Buckeyes everywhere."
And from an adulthood standpoint, "We continue to just lean on those three words: faith, intergrity and discipline. I tell him ‘I've been down every road you want to go down,' and when we talk he borrows that wisdom." To that end, Ryan said he tries to maintain regular church attendance in Columbus at New Salem Baptist Church. He is likely to be there on Sunday morning, even if it will be just hours after tonight's Big Ten opener with Wisconsin in Ohio Stadium.
"I feel like I play better, and that I have a better lifestyle, when I go to church, because it's part of being close to God," he said. "When sometimes I'm not going regularly, I sometimes feel like everything is not going as well as I really want it to go."
There is little doubt that Ryan has been influenced by a father who is a pastor. Not every father has that sort of relationship with his son, and vice versa. One could call them lucky.
"I prefer to use the word blessed," Vernon said. "I believe God's hand is in all of this, that His favor is on us.
"What's exciting to me is Ryan now understands it's unqiue, and it's the same with my younger son," Vernon said. "Me and their mother have told them for years, ‘You guys are a minority, because very few kids have the relationships you have with your parents.' They have games, and often some of their teammates don't have parents there, very few have a father there."
Ryan was an All-State outside linebacker at Plantation High School. Scout.com considered him to be the fifth-best outside linebacker in the prep ranks and also took notice of his skills playing defensive end and tight end during his high school days.
As a junior, Shazier recorded 87 tackles that included 19 sacks and 28.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He caused two fumbles, recovered two others, including one that he returned for a touchdown and blocked a kick. That performance earned him second-team Class 6A All-State honors, along with being named All-Broward County first-team by the Miami Herald.
As a senior, the linebacker again delivered 87 tackles, recording 19.5 sacks with four forced fumbles and four blocked kicks. Named Broward County's Most Outstanding Player that year, he ended his career as the school's record-holder with 38.5 sacks. The All-State pick ended his prep career by suiting up once more for the Under Armour All-American Game.
Shazier graduated early from high school, enrolling at Ohio State in January, 2011, in time to participate in spring drills. He toiled away on special teams and with the second unit for the Buckeyes' first 10 games, but closed out the year with starting assignments at weak-side linebacker during the last three contests. He would not relinquish that position until announcing for the draft after the 2013 season.
Shazier was named to the Freshman All-American team, as he finished sixth on the squad with 57 tackles in 2011, the most by an OSU first-year player since Andy Katzenmoyer posted 86 stops in 1996. Five of his tackles came behind the line of scrimmage, causing fumbles on two of those plays.
As a sophomore, he garnered All-American and All-Big Ten Conference recognition, as the linebacker paced the team with 115 tackles (70 solos) and 17.0 stops-for-loss, ranking second on the team with five sacks. His average of 9.58 tackles per game ranked second in the Big Ten, as his tackle-for-loss average of 1.42 per game was 17th nationally and led all Big Ten defenders.
In 2013, Shazier was again an All-American and All-Big Ten selection. He led the team with a career-high 143 tackles, as his 103 solo hits rank as the third-most in a season by a Buckeye, and were the third-best total in the nation during the 2013 schedule. His 143 total tackles were also the most by an Ohio State defender since Chris Spielman had 156 in 1987. He also led the league with 22.5 stops-for-loss, third-best in the FBS ranks for the year and also ranking third on the school's annual record chart.
Two days after the Buckeyes fell to Clemson in the 2014 Orange Bowl, Shazier announced his intention for leaving school and entering the 2014 NFL Draft. "Playing in the NFL is something that I have been dreaming about since my days in pee-wee football," Shazier said in a statement released by Ohio State. "I just feel that now is the perfect time for me."
Shazier had indicated during bowl practices that he was leaning toward returning to school for another year. But, there might not be much else for him to prove with the Buckeyes. "I'm just going to talk it over with my family and the coaches and just try to get the best analysis that I can," Shazier said before the bowl game. "When I do make a decision, it will be the best decision for me."
"I have good speed and I can run down a player anywhere on the field. I'm very quick off the ball too. I'm hard-hitting and very dedicated. I'm always making goals…every game I play I have goals I want to meet," the junior linebacker noted. "I want to get stronger. I'm also working on my footwork and I just want to learn more about being a linebacker."
Shazier played in 39 games, starting his final 29 contests at weak-side outside linebacker…Recorded 315 tackles (208 solos) with 208 solo hits and 107 assists, as he posted 14 sacks for minus-107 yards, 44.5 stops for losses totaling 172 yards and nine quarterback pressures…Returned his only interception 17 yards for a touchdown and deflected 15 other tosses…Also caused nine fumbles.
Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.