Although Ryan Shazier still has a long way to go in his recovery after suffering a spinal cord injury in December, the former Ohio State linebacker still has his sights set on returning to the field and playing in the National Football League.
In an appearance on his Pittsburgh Steelers teammate Roosevelt Nix’s podcast, speaking publicly for the first time since his injury, Shazier said he not only wants to play the game again, but wants to re-establish himself as one of the NFL’s best linebackers.
"Since I’ve been in college, I really wanted to go to the Hall of Fame. I still want to go to the Hall of Fame," Shazier said. "I’m really trying to come back and still be a Pro Bowler, still be All-Pro … I’m still reaching for that Hall of Famer, because I really feel like I’m the best linebacker ever. So I just got to be back out there so everybody can see it."
Shazier says he has been rehabbing five times a week for two hours each day as he works toward continuing to regain function in his legs. While Shazier did not specifically address how much he has been able to walk, he says his therapists have been impressed with the progress he has made.
"I’m really trusting the process, and I know the end goal. So I’m taking every step of the way, I’m giving my football effort, that 1000, everything I got," Shazier said. "The therapists, they be like, 'Man, this is crazy. I’m happy to be working with an athlete, because I’ve never seen somebody work this hard.’ They see progression like almost every day. They say some progression they see week-to-week (in other patients), they almost see from me day-to-day."
Shazier demonstrated one sign of progress while attending a Pittsburgh Penguins game earlier this month, when he stood up out of his seat to cheers from the crowd while being shown on the arena’s video board. Shazier said it was important to him to do that, he said, so that people could see he really is making progress in his recovery.
"I really wanted to do that, because I felt like everybody needed to see that," Shazier said. "Everybody’s seen the picture, but a picture’s totally different. People can frame pictures. You can’t frame a video."
Shazier says the past two months, though, have given him a new level of understanding and respect for people who are forced to deal with physical disabilities or walking impairments every day.
"I gained so much more appreciation for people that have disabilities and wheelchairs and all that," Shazier said. "You can be going up a one-incline ramp. Boy, that jump’s so much harder."
Through it all, Shazier says he has been strengthened by the unwavering support of his family, friends, Steelers teammates and the city of Pittsburgh.
"From the day I was at the hospital, Michelle (Shazier’s fiance) didn’t leave my side," Shazier said. "My people, and Michelle, once it happened … They were probably on a flight before the game even finished. My mom has been here every day since. My dad was here for a whole month, and he was like 'Bro, I gotta go back to work.'"
Shazier knows there are many who doubt that he will ever play football again, and for that matter, question whether he will even be able to walk under his own power again. That hasn’t changed his own mindset, though, that anything is possible.
"From the moment I got hurt … I already was like 'Yo, I’m gonna bounce back,'" Shazier said. "All I want y’all to do is to constantly have me in y’all prayers. Just know I’m going to be back out there."
Nix did ask Shazier what he plans to do after his football career, and Shazier cited former Los Angeles Lakers player Magic Johnson – who has since gone on to become the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, a part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and involved in numerous other business interests – as an inspiration, saying that he has been taking advantage of every networking opportunity he can to set himself up for post-football career ventures.
"I constantly network with people when it’s the offseason," Shazier said. "Say we have an event, we have an appearance or something, most dudes just be in there, doing their event and they slide. I’m like, 'Yo, who ran this? Who started this? Let me talk to you.' And I’ve really been getting to know a lot of really intelligent people and really successful people, and I just try to grab their knowledge. I’d love to try to be able to have enough to become like a GM and run a team or be an owner. My goal is really to be like the president of a corporation or an owner."
Shazier acknowledged that he did not take his academics as seriously as he should have when he was a student-athlete at Ohio State, but said he is planning to return to earn his degree.
"Everybody has different routes. Everybody don’t just go to school and be the best student and become CEOs and corporate," Shazier said. "But I feel like a lot of people say school ain’t for everybody but don’t put the work in. I ain’t gonna front, bro, I always said like 'I ain’t good at this, I ain’t good at that.' But I never put the dedication I’ve put in football in that."
Shazier also shared some memories of his career as a Buckeye, and took a playful dig at recent Ohio State signee Nicholas Petit-Frere for his slip-up during his commitment to Ohio State. A few additional, Ohio State-related highlights from Shazier’s interview with Nix:
- Shazier on Petit-Frere’s commitment to Ohio State: "That boy said 'I’m going to The University of Ohio State.' Boy, you said that hella wrong. He trippin’, bro."
- On Shazier’s final season at Ohio State in 2013, when the Buckeyes went 12-0 in the regular season before losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game and Clemson in the Orange Bowl: "We really was the best team in college. I can’t believe we lost to Michigan State. That done got me sick."
- Shazier’s greatest play at Ohio State, in his opinion: His forced fumble at the goal line on Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, creating a turnover on what otherwise could have been a game-tying touchdown, in the Buckeyes’ win over the Badgers in 2012.