Montana State lineman Kyle Rygg hopes to step out as former teammate Justin Herbert | national
When Justin Herbert made his NFL debut, his former high school teammate was stuck in limbo, wondering if he could play a 2020-21 season.
Montana state ultimately didn’t play in fall 2020 or spring 2021, relegating players like defensive lineman Kyle Rygg to limited practices and practices filled with masks and social distancing. Rygg not only watched anonymous players enjoy the games last season, but he also watched his former teammate, Herbert, put on one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history.
“I think the worst for everyone was fair, you train so much without a game at the end of the line,” Rygg said earlier this month. “You don’t have to look forward to anything.”
Rygg was a year behind Herbert at Sheldon High School in Eugene, Oregon. Herbert played for the Oregon Ducks from 2017 to 2019 and was drafted sixth overall by the Los Angeles Chargers in the 2020 NFL Draft. Rygg, meanwhile, in a red shirt in 2017, barely played in 2018, appeared in eight games as a reserve in 2019, and was deprived of a 2020 season by the coronavirus pandemic.
Without the canceled season, Rygg might have perfectly synchronized his college escape with Herbert’s professional one. Now, just days before MSU’s season opens in Wyoming, Rygg is in line to start defensive tackle. The junior redshirt can’t wait to play.
“He’s kind of waited for his turn here, and I think with a few years to come he’s ready to take the opportunity,” MSU first-year head coach Brent Vigen said on Tuesday. . “He’s going to have to be a guy we’re really going to lean on.”
Rygg wasn’t at all surprised that Herbert had 4,336 yards with 31 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 66.6% completion percentage last year.
“It was just like, ‘Oh, he’s going,’” Rygg said with a laugh. “He’s always been good at everything. He came to Oregon and was exceptional there, and then he came to the NFL and he does the same. It’s just cool enough to watch (after) grow up with him.
“Obviously he’s really good,” Rygg added. “He’s a super smart guy, which I think is what separates him from a lot of people. He’s such a smart player, and I guarantee you the way he’s preparing perfectly reflects how good he is on the pitch.
Intelligence is not mutually exclusive.
Rygg could have stayed close to home in Portland State or played at other Big Sky schools in Idaho and northern Arizona. All three offered him full scholarships, while he received a partial one from MSU, according to former Bobcats head coach Jeff Choate. But Rygg got a 75% academic scholarship from MSU, and it was the Big Sky school he chose.
Rygg wasn’t featured as a rookie enough to reasonably expect playing time at an FBS school like Oregon. But he might have turned down his hometown college even if it had offered him a full scholarship just because Oregon doesn’t have an engineering program. MSU does, which is one of the main reasons it ended up in Bozeman. He graduated in chemical engineering.
“Obviously it would have been cool (to go to Oregon), but I was realistic with myself, and I came here and fell in love with MSU,” Rygg said. “The football program and the engineering program is kind of the perfect combo for what I was looking for.”
Another factor in Rygg’s decision was Herbert’s brother, Mitch, an all-Big Sky wide receiver for the Bobcats who is now in med school. Rygg found out about MSU through Mitch, also a Sheldon graduate who was senior with the Bobcats when Rygg donned a red shirt. Mitch hosted Rygg on his official visit to MSU, which Rygg first looked at academically, he said.
“He came here and was very successful and had great things to say about the place,” Rygg said of Mitch. “When football came into the equation it was kind of the perfect opportunity.”
Vigen praised not only Rygg’s height (6ft 5in, 275lb) and strength, but also his athleticism and skill. He expects Rygg to be a good addition to starting nose tackle Chase Benson.
“Kyle is a great guy,” MSU senior defensive end Daniel Hardy told The Chronicle. “A force in the middle.”
The Bobcats also have a history of strong defensive lines with recent players such as Derek Marks, Bryce Sterk, Zach Wright and Tucker Yates. Rygg knows he’s the least experienced defensive line starter with legacies he’d like to keep, but he feels more excitement than pressure, he said.
Some of these positive feelings stem from MSU’s new defensive scheme. For linemen, the Bobcats’ 3-4 front under Choate was more “reading oriented” and “eliminating the gaps” than the current 4-2-5 look, Vigen said.
“I have a little more freedom in the pass race,” said Rygg. “We already have two great edge rushers with Daniel and Amandre (Williams), and on the inside Chase is a good passing rusher so I just hope to add to that.”
Rygg was one of the many D linemen who missed the time in the spring. The cause of his absence was COVID-19 contact tracing, and he suffered a minor injury, Vigen said. After years on the bench and a season called off by a pandemic, the last thing Rygg wanted was more time away from the pitch.
Rygg returned at the end of spring training, and he has been a constant presence at fall camp so far. His chance to break through will begin in less than two weeks, and he doesn’t think the footsteps he’s following are too big.
“Nothing is ever guaranteed. I just try to prove myself every day and never take a single day off in the movie theater, ”he said. “Everyone is ready to finally play their game and take all this time to learn, watch and gain experience. Now is finally our chance.