The NFL has made it an important priority to improve player safety throughout the league, but that didn’t prevent Ryan Shazier from suffering a catastrophic injury in December of 2017. While many thought that the linebacker may never walk again, they severely underestimated the willpower of Shazier.
The former Pittsburgh Steeler has had a remarkable recovery from his injury. Just five months after, he walked across a stage to announce the Steelers 1st round draft pick. Seventeen months later, he was dancing at his wedding. Odds are against Shazier ever playing again, but it would be silly to bet against him.
Born in Florida
Ryan Shazier was born in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida on September 6th of 1992 to father Vernon and mother Shawn. Vernon is a pastor who has worked at many different churches. The faith in which Ryan was raised has been an important part of his recovery.
In December of 2017, Vernon Shazier said of Ryan’s recovery, “We’re taking it one day at a time. We do not know what tomorrow holds. It’s a [daily] journey we don’t know. But I know God is getting the message.”
Shazier Had To Deal With A Skin Condition
Since he was a child, Shazier has had Alopecia. The disease makes it so that no hair can grow on any part of his body. When he was a child, Ryan says he was often bullied thanks to the condition.
But rather than letting it hurt his confidence, Shazier began to embrace his Alopecia. Despite being called names like cue ball and patch throughout his childhood, Ryan used the insults as motivation to get better on the playing field.
Ryan Becomes A Megastar in High School
Ryan Shazier played his High School football at Plantation High which is located in Plantation, Florida. While the school’s alumni features former pro football players like H.B. Blades and Josh Robinson, Shazier is clearly the best player in school history.
Ryan was rated as the 106th best player in the country, the 7th best linebacker and the 22nd best player in the state of Florida. His good play ignited recruiting efforts from some of the best schools in the country.
Deciding On His College Was Difficult
As one of the best linebackers in the country, Shazier had a number of college coaches knocking on his door. He was so desired, in fact, that there was a bidding war for his services between Florida and Ohio State.
Shazier had initially agreed to play for Coach Urban Meyer at Florida. After Meyer left Florida, Shazier changed his commitment to Ohio State. But then Ohio State let go of Coach Jim Tressel. Interestingly enough, Tressel was replaced by Meyer and Ryan kept his commitment.
An Immediate Contribution
Ryan wasted no time in becoming an impact player for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Despite being a true Freshman, Shazier played in every single game for the Big Ten powerhouse and started three of those contests.
Shazier’s first start for the Buckeyes came against Penn St., one of Ohio States chief rivals. The linebacker certainly made an impression by recording 15 tackles during the game. Ryan ended the season with 5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks in limited playing time.
Shazier Becomes An All-American
In 2012, Shazier was able to build on his incredibly promising freshman campaign. Staring every game in his sophomore year, the linebacker led the Big Ten with 17 tackles for loss and also had 115 tackles, ranking him second in the conference.
He made an even bigger impact during his Junior year. After a season that saw him lead the Big Ten with 143 tackles, Ryan was named a First Team All-American by a number of different publications.
Number 10 Blows Up The NFL Combine
Obviously, Ryan Shazier came into the NFL combine with a pretty terrific reputation. Not only was he an All-American player in a top-level conference, but he was also known to be a fierce competitor with a great attitude who was loved by his teammates.
Then he put down monster numbers during the 2014 NFL combine. Shazier was known to be a great athlete, but no talent evaluators were expecting him to blaze a 4.38 forty yard dash. That’s the kind of number usually expected from cornerbacks and wideouts.
Ryan Becomes A Pittsburgh Steeler
When a college player enters the NFL draft, they could conceivably end up on any NFL team. There was quite a bit of buzz about Ryan Shazier after his dynamite performance at the combine.
Shazier ended up being drafted by a team that was famed for their tradition of outstanding linebackers, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ohio State product hoped to follow in the footsteps of Pittsburgh linebacking legends like Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, and James Harrison.
A Starter From Day One
The Steelers selected Shazier with the 15th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. When he began his tenure at Ohio State, Shazier became a starter when he was just a true freshman. Like in college, Ryan was a starter from day one in the NFL.
He had a very successful year for Pittsburgh while playing Inside Linebacker. While he did miss time with an ankle injury, he also showed the types of traits that would make him a building block for the emerging Steelers defense.
A Move To The Outside
The Pittsburgh Steelers bounced back and forth from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense. During his rookie year, Shazier played the inside linebacker position in the team’s 3-4 defense. Following that season, Ryan was moved to the outside linebacker position.
While he was perfectly capable of playing on the inside, the move to the outside allowed Shazier to really highlight his athletic ability. The linebacker had a terrific season in year two making 87 tackles with 3 1/2 sacks and picking off a pass.
Shazier Makes His First Pro-Bowl
Once the Steelers moved Shazier to outside linebacker, he started to show off his Pro Bowl talent. That came to fruition in 2016, which was Ryan’s third year in the NFL. That was the year that he made his first Pro Bowl.
Shazier balled out in 2016 by doing a little bit of everything. The outside linebacker stuffed the stat sheet by making a total of 87 tackles, posting 3 1/2 sacks and recording 3 interceptions.
The Fifth Year Option Is Picked Up
Once a first-round pick finishes their 4th year, the front office has to decide whether of not they want to pick up the pick’s 5th-year option. This usually means the player is a building block and worthy of a substantial raise.
Steelers GM Kevin Colbert made the decision to pick up Shazier’s 5th year option in April of 2017. This decision entitled Ryan to a contract worth $8.26 million for the duration of the 2017 season.
The Injury Occurs
As the 2017 started, Ryan had moved back to the Inside Linebacker position he had played in his rookie year. And like the previous seasons, he was playing it like a star. That was, until a fateful day on December 4th.
During a Monday Night Football Game against the Bengals, Shazier suffered a terrible injury on a head-on tackle. He was taken off the field on a stretcher and the surgery to repair his injured spine occurred 3 days later.
Despite Injury, Shazier Is Honored By His Peers
Players across the league were shaken by the horrifying details of Shazier’s injury. Early on in his recovery process, it was thought that the Pittsburgh Steeler would never walk again.
Despite the injury, the NFL and its players honored the linebacker for his tremendous play on the field. Twelve days after the injury, Ryan was named to his second Pro Bowl. The NFL network also took notice of his fine play by naming Shazier the 47th best player during the 2017 NFL season.
Brothers In Arms
After his spinal stabilization surgery, Shazier has a long road to recovery ahead of him. His teammates from the Steelers made sure that Ryan would not have to walk that road alone. Each day he was in the hospital, he was visited by multiple members of the team.
When he discusses those early days of rehabilitation, the former linebacker often discusses how much those visits meant to him. The Steelers often wore pre-game gear with the tagline Shalieve in honor of their teammate.
A Special Phone Call
Early on in his recovery process, Ryan received a phone call that helped him to remember he wasn’t alone in his fight. Shazier received a phone call and a message of support from former Rutgers defensive lineman, Eric LeGrand.
LeGrand, who was paralyzed in a 2010 game felt a kinship with the linebackers and said, “I’m sending him my book and I’m hoping everything works out well for him because he’s in our prayers and we’re there for him.”
Ryan Walks Across A Stage 5 Months Later
When Ryan Shazier had spinal fusion surgery, doctors wondered if the football star would ever walk again. They may have far underestimated the former Steeler’s star.
During the 2018 NFL Draft the Steelers had Shazier announced the team’s first-round draft pick. Not only did Ryan make the pick for the team, he stunned the NFL world by walking across the stage on his own power. The remarkable moment proved what a fighter the former Steeler is.
Shazier Welcomes His Second Child
The good news for the Shazier family didn’t end with Ryan’s remarkable recovery. In January of 2019, the Shaziers welcomed son Lyon Carter Shazier to the family. This was the second child for Shazier who also has a son named Ryan Jr.
This was Ryan’s first child with his fiancee Michelle Rodriguez. Rodriguez and Shazier had been a long time couple and Michelle had stood by his side during the trials and tribulations of his recovery process.
Ryan And Michelle Make It Official
The banner year for the Shazier family continued unabated in 2019. Ryan and his now wife, Michelle, had been together throughout his entire professional career and Michelle stood by his side as the terrible injury occurred.
The couple’s wedding was attended by a number of Ryan’s teammates from both his days with the Ohio State Buckeyes as well as the Pittsburgh Steelers. The wedding became a viral sensation once Ryan, thought to be paralyzed just 17 months earlier, hit the dance floor with his new bride.
The Story Isn’t Over Yet
Ryan still has a special relationship with the Steelers. When the injury happened, it was unlikely that Shazier would ever play again. His recovery, though, has been incredible and the linebacker hasn’t yet given up on continuing his NFL career.
Shazier has told reporters, “I still want to play football, so at the end of the day I’m still focused on trying to get back as much as I can. It’s been a long journey. My dream is to come back and play football.”