The apple didn’t just fall far from the tree. Heck, no. It rolled like mad for another 100 yards, spinning as fast as the core could carry it. Ryan Metz is blessed with a cannon; Grandpa Leon was blessed to write about them. Ryan is 6-4 and has wheels to burn; Leon is 5-11-ish and … well, didn’t.
“I think his first fight, he was knocked out cold,” Cheryl chuckled when asked about Leon’s pugilistic pursuits. “Honestly, I think that was probably the last thing he did in sports.”
These days, Ryan is the starting quarterback at Texas-El Paso, a redshirt freshman and a local kid made good. He attended Miners games as a boy, raised in the shadow of the Sun Bowl, and now he gets to throw in it. Storybook stuff.
“We’re so proud of him,” Cheryl said of her grandson. “It’s not just his sports ability — he’s smart, too. He’s a good young man who learned how to say ‘Yes, ma’am, no ma’am, yes sir, no sir,’ and still uses it.
“And Ryan’s very humble. That’s something he has in common with his grandpa. Leon was always very humble.”
Humble and esteemed. Leon Metz is an El Paso treasure, an author, columnist, radio host and cultural historian whose expertise on the Old West has been featured on platforms such as A&E and The History Channel. Grandpa’s legacy includes 17 books, among them a biography of lawman Pat Garrett. In 1985, he received the Owen Wister Award — then called the Saddleman — for “Outstanding Contributions to the American West,” and in 2010 was presented the Ruth Lester Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas Historical Commission.
“Every time we’d go to a restaurant with my grandpa back then, everybody would come up (and say), ‘Hey, Mr. Metz, Mr. Metz,’” recalled Ryan, whose Miners (2-3, 0-1 Conference USA) visit Florida International (2-3, 0-1) Saturday. “They’d always shake his hand.
“I don’t really see it as pressure. I just try to be the best person I can be. You don’t want to do the wrong things. When you see my name, they always think of Leon Metz. So it’s (important) that I’ve got to keep up a good character. I was raised the right ways. I think my parents, they did a good job of raising both myself and my brother.”
The celebrated scribe is in the winter of his days now, 84 years young, resting at a veteran’s home over the past few years while battling the effects of Alzheimer’s. Cheryl says Leon was diagnosed with the disease more than a decade ago, and that at least the descent has been slow, mercifully paced.
“We were so blessed,” she said. “He would be proud (of Ryan), I know that.”
Like Grandpa, Ryan’s a tough nut, a royal scrapper. He opened camp as the No. 3 signal-caller behind Mack Leftwich and Garrett Simpson, fighting for snaps. Simpson was taken out of the picture because of a preseason ankle injury; Leftwich suffered a concussion against New Mexico State on Sept. 19. The rest, as Leon might say, is history: Ryan now ranks among the top seven in Conference USA in terms of completion percentage (61.0), passing touchdowns (six), yards per attempt (7.1), and total touchdowns responsible for (seven).
“I don’t know if you’d really say (I got) thrown into the fire,” said Metz, who replaced the injured Leftwich against the Aggies and rallied the Miners to a 50-47 overtime win. “The whole (previous) two years I’ve been here, coming into this year, I’ve been preparing for this moment.
“There’s a lot of ups and downs. That’s really life — life has a lot of ups and downs. It’s the road we take.”
The last three weeks has presented its own share of roller-coaster moments. Against New Mexico State, Metz completed 15 of 19 passes and tossed three touchdowns. That was followed up with a 20-for-28 showing and two more scores in a win over Incarnate Word the next week. But the good mojo ran into a wall — and two lightning delays — last Saturday against Texas-San Antonio, when Metz was picked off four times in a 25-6 home setback. Over the last three contests, the Miners’ quarterback has accounted for six UTEP touchdowns — and three pick-sixes.
“(I’m) looking forward to bouncing back from last week; it’s a game where I didn’t feel like I was myself out there,” said Metz, who’s thrown six touchdowns and five interceptions in five appearances. “I didn’t expect to come in here and have a perfect record and just throw for 50 touchdowns and only two picks. It happens to everyone. That’s what’s really going to determine my character: How I bounce back.”
Ryan has always taken the “character” part seriously, forever cognizant of growing up with a famous grandpa and a famous name, even at El Paso’s Andress High, where he was an All-District 1-4A first-teamer as a quarterback and named to the National Honor Society.
And yet …
“I hate that I’m saying this: I’m not a big reader,” Ryan cracked.
“I’m not big on reading. Math is actually my strong point — that’s why I got into civil engineering. (When) I would always talk to my grandpa, he would ask me how school was, he even said that when he was little, that he did not like to read. And it really grew on him. And he didn’t like math at all. So we differ on that. Yeah, we have our differences.”
The apple rolls on. But only so far.
“Really, this was my only (collegiate) offer,” Metz said. “Honestly, I think it was the best offer I could’ve received. I know my mom, when I was in high school, she was like, ‘I’d kind of like you to explore the world, see someplace new.’ (Now) she couldn’t be happier about where I am.”
And she’s not the only one. Cheryl drives to UTEP games with a magnet on the back of her Camry that says: “RYAN METZ’S GRANDMA,” a tribute to a new generation of those amazing Metzes.
“What’s funny,” Ryan said, “was that my first word was actually ‘Grandpa.’”
Deep down? Deep down, it’s kind of the last word, too.
Above: Video courtesy UTEP Athletics
On the cover: Ryan Metz (Courtesy UTEP Athletics)