NFL Closeup: Ryan Quigley reflects on roller-coaster journey to NFL

GettyImages-496528924Ryan Quigley found himself at a crossroads.

After a successful four-year punting career at Boston College, Quigley, undrafted, had an opportunity to make the Chicago Bears roster during the 2012 preseason. Quigley made the 53-man roster with the Bears, replacing injured Adam Podlesh, but was waived on September 10 upon Podlesh’s return to the lineup. After shining on the football field for eight years straight—at North Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) High School and at Boston College—it was an odd feeling for him to suddenly be faced with a future that possibly did not involve football.

Like many athletes who are cut, Quigley returned home—to Myrtle Beach—to process the present and evaluate his future. Now that his dream of punting in the NFL (where there are only 32 jobs in the world) was suddenly in question, what was he supposed to do now? Where was he supposed to go?

“For me, I just didn’t want to be that guy in my hometown where people are like, ‘He almost made it,’” Quigley says.

Quigley decided to remain in pursuit of his dream. He moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where his agent, Robert Walker of US Sports Management, resided, and Quigley continued to train on his own, with the hope that one day, any day, he might receive a call from an NFL team.

“I gave myself two years to give everything I have,” Quigley says. “Chicago gave me the confidence to continue. When I was in Charlotte, I just made that decision.”

Quigley was methodical in his approach. For example, he awoke at 7 a.m. each morning and went to Elon Park in South Charlotte to perform ball drills and visualization drills. As the season progressed, week after week, his morning routine did not change. He remained dedicated.

“Don’t get me wrong, it was definitely a grind,” Quigley says. “Your head plays games with you. I’m watching games every Sunday and seeing these guys on TV, wondering, ‘Will I get that shot? Do I even deserve that shot?’ For me, it was all about being ready when that call comes, if it comes.”
The 2012 season, Quigley’s first without football, came and went, void of opportunities. He was yet to receive any clarity, and his labor seemed to be lacking fruit.

Something else, however, was taking place within Quigley during such a vulnerable, humbling year. Throughout the season, Quigley began to explore his faith for the first time.
Each week he attended a Bible study with current Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown, who had also been waived by the Bears that season; and he also attended CharlotteONE (a local gathering of Christians in their 20s and 30s) with his roommates.

“Just being around guys who were men of God really motivated me,” Quigley says. “I wanted my faith to grow, and I wanted to become a man of God, too.”

Quigley read books.

He dove into his Bible.

He filled his journal with notes about all he was learning.

“When I came to Charlotte, it was just one of those moments where it was like, I am going to let everything go, everything back home, let it go; everything everyone was saying about me, let it go; I just cut myself off from everybody else, and I focused on God first and football the rest of my day,” Quigley says. “What I learned about myself was that I was able to find that confidence that I was never able to find when I was in college. With college football, it was always about impressing somebody else. When I came to Charlotte, I was finally able to sit back and be like, this is me right now. I’m going to try to improve my game, and try to figure out my faith…That was really where God kind of entered my life. Took away all the pressure, all the stress. Just gave me peace and security. Living in the moment, rather than thinking so far ahead into the future, knowing that He has a plan.”

On April 11, 2013, Quigley signed with the New York Jets. He was then cut by the Jets in August and re-signed in September. And, for the past three seasons, he has been their go-to punter. In Week 9 of the 2015 season, Quigley was named the AFC Special Team’s Player of the Week for filling in as placekicker for injured Nick Folk, making all four extra points and placing five punts inside the 20.

“Over the past three years, it’s just been a roller-coaster, highs and lows, but I can always go back to that, that peace, that understanding,” Quigley says. “I can always take a step back. God has already done everything for you. I’m reading a book right now on grace. If you try to measure yourself up with all these statistics, all the wins and losses, people talking about you, about how good you are, or how much you stink, it can mess up your head. Once I learned to let go, and let God in, I was able to find peace. You are able to block out all the noise and live in the moment and enjoy the ride. That was something that I was missing. I mean, I’m still trying to figure it out, and I don’t think I’ll ever figure it all out. But that’s how great God’s love and grace is, impossible to fully understand. It’s a good feeling.”

By Stephen Copeland

This closeup was published in Sports Spectrum’s Winter 2016 print magazine. Log in HERE to view the issue. Subscribe HERE to receive eight issues of Sports Spectrum a year.