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Ryan Frye, Atlanta Falcons' 13-Year-Old Volunteer Scout

BRISTOL, Va. – Ryan Frye sees things.

Ryan looks at numbers and sees ideas. He examines statistics and sees trends. He studies games, individual performances and roster changes, and sees patterns and predictable movement.

Ryan sees what others miss.

He has the vision of a professional scout, the analytical mind of a general manager and the clean, unfiltered, it-is-what-it-is view of a coach.

But Ryan isn’t a pro scout, nor is he a GM or a card-carrying member of the coaching ranks.

Ryan is a 13-year-old kid. Still in middle school. Still figuring out how the big, adult world works and why.

Ryan also is a survivor.

He fought, battled and overcame cystic kidney disease as a young child.

Ryan’s body is frail – too frail to compete in football, the sport he loves most. And Ryan’s arms, legs and torso are tiny compared to the kids and adults who play the games Ryan watches from afar.

But Ryan, a resident of Bristol, Va., in the seventh grade at Virginia Middle School, gets as close to the field as possible through television, radio and the Internet.

Ryan watches and observes. He takes notes. And then he works his magic.

He rips through box scores, devours percentages and stats, and picks apart and interprets the avalanche of numbers and names that represent the modern world of sports.

And for Ryan, it doesn’t stop there. He then puts his information to work.

Ryan produces thick, well-researched scouting reports. He analyzes potential NFL draft picks, highlighting their strong points and documenting their hidden weaknesses.

Some reports, Ryan keeps. Some are published on the Web. Others eventually end up in the hands of Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith.

“He’s a unique [kid]. He’s very thorough in his evaluations and writing his reports,” said Smith, who played linebacker at East Tennessee State University, where he developed a lasting friendship with Ryan’s father, Terry Frye. “I think it’s a passion of his and a goal of his to [become] a personnel guy in the NFL. … Everybody should have dreams. And he’s pursuing them, and I think he’s doing a real nice job.”

First glance

Ryan’s eyes still light up.

Five years have passed since Ryan took in his first NFL game, but he talks about the event like it just occurred.

Ryan was 8 at the time. Sports had caught his interest, but never held it.

Then Ryan’s father took him to Nashville. It was Aug. 9, 2003. The Tennessee Titans were hosting the Cleveland Browns in an NFL preseason game. And Ryan’s world was forever changed.

Ryan fell in love with the look, feel and action that surround and dominate the NFL. He loved the simple things: the colors, the crowd, the big and dream-like way everything looked and felt.

But Ryan was also fascinated by the complexity of the game. How fast and efficiently the players moved. How effortless their actions were. How hard and often they hit each other. And how they pulled off moves and shined with skills normal human beings could never recreate.

Ryan saw the game through a child’s eyes, and he saw it for what it was: fascinating.

Ryan was hooked.

“There was no convincing him after that,” Frye said. “His eyes were [so] big.”

Soon, Ryan turned fascination into devotion.

He began watching every college and pro football game he could. He studied results and stats. And his brain began to collect the information and produce in-depth analysis.

“I’m a huge fan of football and sports myself,” Frye said. “To see [Ryan] get interested is a great thing. He’s doing some things that I wish I had the opportunity to do. I was a small kid myself. … I played a little football, but I never started – I warmed the bench.”

First fight

The father did not want to lose his son.

Frye and his wife had already lost their first child, a seven-month-old stillborn, to polycystic kidney disease.

Now, he was faced with losing Ryan.

Ryan was diagnosed with cystic kidney disease – an illness characterized by damage to the liver, pancreas, heart and brain – at the age of 1.

Ryan’s bad kidney, which functioned poorly due to the disease, was poisoning his body.

In addition, Ryan suffered from stroke-level high blood pressure, and was also forced to deal with an enlarged heart.

“I was scared to death,” Frye said. “I was really scared to death.

“When [the doctors] figured out what the problem was, they tried to treat [Ryan] with medication. It worked for a while. But it got back out of control. … I had to take him back and hand him to the surgeon.”

A two-day procedure ended with Ryan in the clear. But it took his body years to recover, and his growth was slowed as a result of the disease. Ryan participated in years of physical and speech therapy during the aftermath.

He has no recollection of the events.

“It’s kind of weird [to think about],” Ryan said.

A special-needs child who is considered handicapped, he now possesses one kidney that is 85 percent functional.

Sometimes, Ryan shows people his surgery scar.

Other times, he just keeps the scar to himself.

Work and devotion

Ryan puts the information together in his free time.

He uses the family computer. He uses the Internet. He uses television, radio and every other possible broadcast medium he can acquire.

Ryan gets home from school, knocks out his homework and then moves on to the real work.

Analysis. Predictions. Forecasts. Insight and info on busts, sure-things and sleepers.

“I thought they were well-written and had good insight,” said Smith, the Falcons coach.

Smith is referring to Ryan’s NFL scouting reports.

Ryan submitted a detailed 34-page NFL draft advisory to Smith and the Falcons prior to this season’s draft.

In the report, Ryan addressed the Falcons’ 2008 needs – quarterback, cornerback, defensive and offensive tackle, tight end – rated potential draft picks and offered strong recommendations on who Atlanta should take, when and why.

“If [Ryan] had his choice, he would much rather [play sports],” Frye said. “But he loves sports, and he loves football in particular. … This is a substitute for being a player. But on the other hand, he thinks like a coach. He breaks games down like a coach. He really does.”

Ryan broke everything down in his draft advisory.

Combine run time, performance in the bench press and cone-drill, vertical jump, height, weight and overall strength, college stats, and the views and opinions of other scouts.

Just like a pro.

The only issue Ryan struggled with? Character flaws.

“It’s hard to find that,” Ryan said, smiling.

Smith believed in Ryan’s work enough that he consulted the 13-year-old’s scouting reports prior to the draft.

Ryan’s take on Chevis Jackson, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound cornerback who played college ball at Louisiana State University:

‘Chevis Jackson throughout his career is consistency. He has been a three-year starter in the toughest conference in college football and has been solid each and every year. He definitely improved this year … Could benefit by getting a little faster, but it shouldn’t hurt him too much. He’s not as much of an athlete as he is a football player and if put in the right scheme, he could really shine.’

Ryan suggested the Falcons take Jackson in the third round. Atlanta did, choosing Jackson (18 tackles, 15 solo, one interception and five pass deflections for the Falcons in ’08) as the 68th overall selection.

And Smith rewarded Ryan by naming the middle-school student a volunteer scout for Atlanta.


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