Often before they are old enough to drive, Canadian hockey players who aspire to take their game to the next level leave the comforts of home to begin a junior hockey career, sometimes hundreds of miles away from mom’s cooking. They must get acclimated to life with a host family and continue their education in a different setting.
Ryan Hunter’s story is a little different. Between his sophomore and junior years of high school he left his native North Bay, Ontario and headed to the United States to play football. What’s more he left a French-speaking high school, Algonquin Catholic, to enroll at Canisius High in Buffalo, about a five-hour drive away.
Like those he grew up, with Hunter has always been a big hockey fan. He also has long enjoyed football, which he frequently watched with his father, Ken. Though he did not begin playing until eighth grade the sport grew on him to the point it is what he wanted to pursue even if his mother, Louise, had other ideas.
“My mom said there is no way I was going away to play football,” said Hunter, a redshirt junior and starting offensive lineman at Bowling Green. “My dad was on board, so it took a little bit of convincing of my mom to let me leave the country at 16. She didn’t want her little baby to leave home so early. I think if she had to go through it again she would allow me to leave again because she is glad to see that I am happy where I am and the opportunities that I have been given.”
While at Algonquin Catholic, which was not going to give him the recruiting exposure he needed, Hunter traveled to the U.S. to attend various camps and combines. Following one of the camps he received a Facebook message from somebody he did not know, but was another Ontario native who found out about Hunter. The person explained how he moved to Buffalo to play football at Canisius and provided much insight about the school and its coaches. Before he knew it Hunter had his bags packed and was ready to spend his final two years of high school away from home.
“It was kind of a lot to handle especially because everything happened so fast,” said Hunter, who at ages 15-16 was a junior Canadian weightlifting champ. “I had grown up going to a French school my whole life so there was also the language barrier, although I spoke fluent English and could write it very well.”
He struggled at first with the school’s strict curriculum, but with the help of the coaching staff and teachers his grades improved. He also had to adjust to a higher caliber of football, which he did in exemplary fashion as underscored by honors that included being named Buffalo News Player of the Year as a senior and being ranked as the top offensive lineman in Western New York.
Offers came in from Bowling Green and Buffalo, the former feeling like a good fit from the start. Since redshirting with the Falcons in 2013 Hunter has played in all 29 games, including 14 starts last season when he led the team in pancakes. He gets a chance to take out a few more defensive linemen when Bowling Green (0-1) hosts Big Sky Conference opponent North Dakota (0-1) Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ASN.
Away from the field things have also gone pretty well. The 6–4, 320-pound Hunter is a two-time All-MAC academic honoree and last year the criminal justice major was among those who earned the conference’s Distinguished Scholar Athlete award.
“It means as much to me as it would be if I were to be nominated all-conference as an offensive lineman,” he said of the academic recognition.
When he was younger Hunter enjoyed watching such shows and The First 48 and CSI. While he knew they were not reality based, they piqued his interest and before long he wanted to explore a career in the criminal justice field. He experienced it first hand while interning this summer at the Wood County prosecutor’s office in Bowling Green.
“That experience solidified my interest in going to law school and wanting to be an attorney,” he said. “Every day I woke up feeling excited to go to work because I knew it would be something different, a different case every day. It was real-life application, not like hypothetical classroom situations where if this, this and this happened what would it mean. These were real cases with real people and real sentences if it got to that point.”
With all that he has experienced on and off the gridiron at Bowling Green, Hunter is certainly a good resource for kids in North Bay to tap into. In fact, when he is back home he takes time to tell kids at Algonquin Catholic that they too can go a different route in pursuing their dreams.
“I try to give the kids inspiration because where I am from everything is hockey this and hockey that,” said Hunter, who starts on his MBA in the spring. “Nobody really looks at football, so I think it is important for kids to see that there is a local person who has done what he aspired to do even though people are telling them, and they told me the same thing, that it cannot be done and you are wasting your time and your money. Even if people say you can’t do something just keep at it, focus on what you can accomplish and everything will fall into place.”
Everything has fallen into place nicely at Bowling Green for Ryan Hunter.