THERE COULD come a time when Ryan Neher is living a life dedicated to the service and protection of others.
But for now, the 6-3, 255-pound center is just happy to be back healthy and protecting quarterbacks and running backs.
It was a Tuesday night in October when the Archbishop Wood senior wrenched his left wrist competing in drill work against the scout team. Ever the competitor, the Richboro resident finished practice and gave another go the following day.
It was La Salle Week, after all.
"I was still able to move it right after," Neher said, "but as it sat, it swelled up."
Bulbous and painful, Neher's wrist was put in a cast, then operated on after a scan revealed a fracture.
The Explorers outlasted the Vikings in Week 6, 35-31. Neher watched as La Salle dominated both lines of scrimmage in the second half.
Wood (12-1, 4-0) certainly didn't dwell, outscoring Catholic League AAA opponents, 147-13, in the next three games. However, in Neher's absence, senior running back Jarrett McClenton rushed only 22 times for 126 yards.
>After the Vikings bludgeoned Great Valley, 44-7, last week, McClenton had rushed for 570 yards on 54 carries (10.5 per) since Neher returned in the PCL semifinals.
In today's PIAA semifinal, Wood travels to Chambersburg at 1 p.m. to battle with District 5's Somerset (13-1). Also at 1 p.m. in AAAA play, St. Joseph's Prep (9-3, 3-0) hosts District 1 Pennsbury (13-1) at Charles Martin Memorial Field.
Since Neher's return, his wrist has been armored with a plastic splint wrapped in foam padding.
"At first, getting right back to the game, it was really hard to get used to it because I had to change some of the ways I pass-block and got down in my stance," he said. "It held me back in the beginning but now not so much."
Of course, it's great to be back, but perhaps the only thing Neher enjoys more is giving back.
With three cousins in the Philadelphia Police Department, Neher is interested in following. To that end, he's plans to study computer science and apply those skills in criminal justice.
Other than the family connection, he wasn't immediately sure where the desire for service came from. However, he knows exactly why he got involved at Wood.
Neher said he is the vice president of the school's Athletes Helping Athletes program, a organization that attempts to "connect local special needs athletes with mainstream student-athletes in a spirit of friendship for their mutual benefit and inspiration."
Neher said the friendship between former Wood gridder Colin Thompson and current honorary coach John Shulby, who has Down syndrome, made him want to get involved.
"I was always inspired by Colin, because he was such a great kid," Neher said. "And then he told me about Athletes Helping Athletes here at Wood."
"I do a lot of work with our program when, once a week, we work with kids with special needs," Neher said. "I just love doing it. I'm involved in the Special Olympics, too."
A 3.4-GPA student, Neher has an offer from Division II Shippensburg and Assumption College in Massachusetts. Rhode Island, Wagner and Maine are also said to have interest.
His older brother Shane, formerly a Wood tight end, plays basketball at Holy Family University. Neher's father, Mike, played basketball at Cardinal Dougherty (1985) and later at DeSales, which was called Allentown College of Saint Francis.
Before Neher sets off to begin a life of helping others, he'll try to help Wood capture a third PIAA championship in the last 4 years.
"Even just to get back there would be a great honor," he said. "We're fortunate to be good enough again this year to even be competing for it and to get back there would be overwhelming."
St. Joseph's Prep vs. Pennsbury
PIAA Class AAAA semifinal
Saturday, 1 p.m.
Charles Martin Memorial Field, Northeast
Archbishop Wood vs. Somerset
PIAA Class AAA semifinal
Saturday, 1 p.m.
Where: Chambersburg High