When Ryan McCormack played football at Westerly High in the mid 1990s, he had the rare opportunity to play for three legendary Bulldog head coaches during his four-year career.
As an underclassman, he played for James Murano, a Hall of Fame coach who led Westerly to two RIIL state titles before he retired as coach to embark on a school administrative career. For two years, he played under another Westerly Hall of Famer, Tucker Terranova, who stepped down as head football coach to become athletic director.
Finally, he played for Chris Wriedt, who was named head coach in McCormack's senior year en route to a 22-year Hall of Fame coaching career that produced three RIIL state crowns and a school-record 137 career wins.
Playing under three head coaches in four years sometimes creates a lack of continuity and general upheaval for an athlete. But for McCormack, the exposure to some of Westerly's all-time greats clearly was a positive influence on him.
After making magna cum laude in the classroom and winning championships playing football at Salve Regina in Newport, McCormack has made football coaching his livelihood.
"All three Westerly coaches were different, but I learned something from all of them," McCormack said. "Murano was great with the X's and O's. Terranova was from the old school where you outwork everyone and outphysical teams. Wriedt was the best teacher and was great at relaying information."
This fall, McCormack enters his 20th season as an assistant football coach. He's in his fourth season at UMass Dartmouth, where he's the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator.
McCormack's Twitter account chronicles his busy offseason and passion for eyeing future talent.
"I've been an assistant for 20 years," McCormack said. "I've had associates who have moved up the ranks to be head coaches and have moved around. My niche is recruiting and talent evaluation."
At Division I camps, McCormack sees superior athletes in the flesh. McCormack made connections all over the East and Midwest as a guest coach at various college football prospect camps and showcases for high school athletes all offseason. This summer, he has served as a guest coach or camp contributor at UConn, Syracuse, Central Connecticut, Yale, Southern Connecticut, Brown and Bryant, among others.
"For most people around New England, it would shock them to see the gargantuan size of the linemen at Syracuse's camp, for example," McCormack said. "Division I programs are looking for high school players with size and speed — measurables — right way. It's eye-opening to see the talent out there."
While McCormack can tell stories about superstar athleticism of future Michigan or Notre Dame recruits he sees at camps, he is charged with pumping talent into UMass Dartmouth, which has been a .500 team the last four years. Aside from touring summer college talent showcases, he can be found at Friday night scholastic football games, securing all-conference or All-State players who are highly productive but may not run a 4.5 40-yard dash, broad jump 11 feet or possess 6-foot-6 size as linemen.
McCormack has attracted a number southern Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut players to UMass Dartmouth during his tenure. He emphasized how competitive it is for any high school player to land a spot on a college football roster.
"You've got to be a great athlete to play Division III football," he said. "The difference between Division I and III is speed and overall frame. Some Division III kids could have been borderline Division I players, but it took them four years of college to get to that level."
A number of locals have called UMass Dartmouth home. Matt Mitchell, a former 1,000-yard running back at Stonington, completed a successful UMass Dartmouth career as a back and kick returner. He earned selection to the National Football Foundation Hampshire Honor Society after attaining better than a 3.2 grade point average.
Academics is a major selling point on McCormack's recruiting trail. UMass Dartmouth is part of the UMass education system and requires higher academic standards than most Division III schools.
"It's tough to get in and tougher to stay here," McCormack said. "UMass Dartmouth is a Tier 1 research school. We offer engineering, pre-law and pre-med here. Essentially, student athletes are getting a Division I education at a Division III school."
McCormack has recruited Jack Corley (defensive line) and Nate Miller (linebacker) from Stonington; Junie Rios (linebacker) and Josh LaCerte (defensive line) from Westerly; Evan Judkins (quarterback), Trevor McCarthy (lineman) and Alexi Fauzey (defensive back) from Chariho; Tyler Nelli (athlete) from Fitch; and Liam Whaley (lineman) from East Lyme.
Prior to taking the UMass Dartmouth position, McCormack was defensive coordinator at Mt. Hope High for two years and an assistant at Rogers and Middletown. He coached at his alma mater, Salve Regina, from 2000 to 2006. McCormack has also started a background investigation business to add to his busy schedule.
But clearly, being a football coach and recruiting coordinator is his ideal workload. Mark Robichaud, UMass Dartmouth head coach, says McCormack goes beyond the call of duty, putting in well over 40 hours a week.
"Ryan's passion for UMass Dartmouth and our football program is unbelievable," Robichaud said in an email. "During the season Ryan commutes almost 90 minutes each way to attend practices, meetings, etc. The rest of the year he is in high schools and attending virtually every major college camp in the Northeast.
"Ryan loves to recruit, he loves the challenge," Robichaud added. " I can’t compensate him for a fraction of the work he does. He doesn’t do it for the money; he does it because he is good at it, and he sees what an impact his recruits make on our program."
McCormack views it as a labor of love.
"Everyone wants to be a head coach, but I feel you are what you are," McCormack said. "I love what I'm doing now. The longer you do this, the more people you add to your network. I enjoy all aspects of coaching, learning at camps, seeing what's out there and recruiting."