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Friday, July 3, 2020

Sports > General

20/20 on 2020 senior athletes: Sullivan West's Ryan Kocher

May 28, 2020

By Richard Ross - reporter/photographer

Ryan Kocher impedes Tri-Valley's Drew Hartman early in the Homecoming Game of his junior year. He subsequently reinjured his knee and had surgery which ended his noble SW football career.
LAKE HUNTINGTON- “For the love of the game,” is a phrase that best encapsulates the passionate, joyous and sometimes heart-rending relationship that Sullivan West senior Ryan Kocher has had with football.
In many respects sports is the theatre of life, teeming with experiences that are universal and resonant beyond the limited parameters of the field and stadium. Amidst the unfolding drama of Sullivan West football, Kocher would come to play an uplifting, memorable role in the sport that first caught his rapt attention watching the Carolina Panthers play the New England Patriots seven years ago.
Kocher watched Sullivan West gridiron warriors practice as he ran cross-country in seventh grade dreaming of one day putting on the Bulldogs' uniform and becoming one of those fearsome gladiators, those older boys he saw running and tackling in Jeffersonville. Football had captured his imagination.
Over the four years of high school football became the epicenter of his life.
Kocher's football story is one of unbridled dedication, of relentless work and preparation, of camaraderie and enduring memories, but sadly too of injuries that kept him sidelined in frustration and disappointment when what he wanted more than anything else was to deliver his all and help his beloved teammates marshal their best, win or lose.
Injuries are a part of sports. But when it comes to Kocher's forced multiple exits from playing football, especially in his senior year, there are no words that can convey the loss he felt. Yet despite the travails, Kocher regards his football experience among his most precious and coveted times.
As he continues his recovery from knee surgery this past September, he is working assiduously to compete for a walk on position at Cortland next fall. His course of study will earn him a B.A. and master's degree in Physical Education and set him on his path to become a gym teacher and a football coach.
“I want to give back to kids in need what I have gained from playing football,” he said. Kocher's experience, temperament and his ability to cope with adversity will change the lives of the young players who will have him as their coach and their friend.
In his freshman year he played every JV football game and was part of the scout squad that the varsity practiced against. Those players, which included Tom Stauch who was a great help to Kocher, were great role models and superb athletes.
That year Kocher suffered a concussion and missed some time. Sophomore year he was on JV again as the few upper classmen went to Roscoe. Kocher played middle linebacker and rotated at defensive end. He got to spend some time at running back as well. From regents week in late spring and all through the summer he trained rigorously for his junior year, running, weightlifting and going to Jay Fiedler's Prime Time camp as well as playing seven on seven football.
The newly formed eight-man team played very well against Tri-Valley and others at the preseason scrimmage. Then on a rainy, muddy night in Eldred he hurt his knee again. The diagnosis was a quad strain and two weeks rest. Kocher played three more games on his hurt knee.
Then in the homecoming game against Tri-Valley, Kocher went to stop the Bears' relentless fullback Alex Schultz and reinjured the knee, this time with a diagnosed bone bruise and a partial tear of the ACL. The doctors said it would be six months before he could play. Kocher took the winter off and threw well in track that spring.
Again he readied for football. But at a seven-on-seven game at Warwick while running his knee simply gave way. Kocher ended up at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, which meant missing his final year on the gridiron. Nevertheless he showed up to the first game in a wheelchair to cheer his teammates on. He was at every game and practice.
“It was killing me not being out there,” he reflects. The prognosis was anywhere from eight to 14 months of recovery.
In the meantime his mom Pam had been diagnosed with cancer for the second time. “I can't say enough about my mom. She always puts everyone else first.” He and his mother were mutually supportive through their respective challenges.
Kocher has so many fond memories it's hard to single one out but his junior year game at Dover causing a rip sack and fumble and seeing Jason Gaebel running down the field with the ball will long remain vivid.
But mostly it's the friendships formed that provide lasting resonance. Kocher has great respect for Coach Ron Bauer who mentored him through football and his tour as a discus and shot-put thrower in track. His dad Charlie, his athletic sister Nikki and his up and coming seventh grade brother Josh are part and parcel of the supportive family network.
“Football has been a blessing. It's given me perspective and taught me to be responsible and to hold myself accountable for what I say and do. It's taught me about respect and made me tougher. It's helped me to become a better person,” said Kocher. For the love of the game, the love of his life, Ryan Kocher has given his all.

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