Ryan Thelen: Larger Than Life
Oct. 28, 2013
By Brock Lewandowski, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Says amateur karaoke enthusiast Ryan Thelen, "I'm not the world's best singer, but I like to sing sometimes."
Senior men's soccer player Ryan Thelen, however, has become a reliable player for the Spartan side, which is good because his teammates have a clear opinion on his singing ability.
"They think I'm horrible."
"He certainly brings consistency and stability," said Rensing. "He's someone that can be relied upon. He played every minute of every game last year. He's at the top of the team for minutes this year. He's always steady; he's always in tune to the game. He knows the scouting reports. He's got a great left foot, where's he's actually gotten a couple of goals this year. He's a model of consistency."
"I think last season, he was one of our most consistent players and he's carried that over through this year," Cope said. "He's not flashy, but he gets the job done."
Ryan would argue that this consistency stems from a single value.
"I've always prided myself on working hard," said Thelen. "Day in and day out, I try to do everything to the best of my ability. I've been through the whole experience, so being a fifth year and doing this for four years now, I feel like I know the ins and outs. My parents have always instilled that work ethic in me. Either do something to the best of your ability or don't waste your time. "
Rensing can attest to Thelen's work ethic.
"He had some back issues early on in his career and I think he was very patient," said Rensing. "He had to work hard. It took him a couple of years to earn that starting position. Anytime you have to earn that, and work as hard as Ryan has, I think you appreciate what you've done and Ryan certainly has."
To put it in the words of his go-to karaoke band, the Backstreet Boys, this work ethic is what makes him "larger than life," but his personality is much more multifaceted. Growing up a short 20 miles away, Thelen uses the extra local attention to his advantage.
"I think another thing that's neat about Ryan is that he's a local product from Mason," said Rensing. "That's not always easy, because people around the community always ask him about his play, so there's maybe a little bit more pressure on him. To be fair, Ryan has handled that with class and has probably turned that into a positive."
Thelen's growth recently paid off when he hit a personal milestone, sinking the game-winning goal against Oregon State, curved into the net off a corner kick, for his first career goal.
"I've been here for four full years, going on my fifth year, so I think it was really cool to finally score my first goal for Michigan State," said Thelen, "It was a really good feeling and I was really happy to finally get one."
He also posted his first Big Ten goal when he scored one to tie the game against then fifth-ranked Northwestern. Even though he's brought some exciting moments to MSU, his favorite moments are with his teammates.
"Definitely winning the Big Ten Tournament Championship last year, that was a feeling unlike any I've had before," Thelen said, "We went on a win streak and to win that was really cool.
"It felt surreal. On the bus home, everyone was super happy and after we calmed down, it kind of sunk in that we were the best in the Big Ten. We just won the Big Ten Championship; that's awesome."
He will also remember one of the squad's stranger traditions.
"I think it started last year," Thelen said. "Ben Myers always starts singing `When the Saints Go Marching In.' That's on every road trip that we sing that. On road trips, if we win, we sing the fight song. I'll definitely remember that."
As a senior, Thelen has seen the progress his team has made over the years and can provide insight into the attributes of a great program.
"As a soccer player, we had a lot of injuries last year and for the team to pull together and prove that we can win, there's no one player that makes the program," said Thelen. "The team makes the program. Everyone playing their role last year has definitely translated into this year"
Even though he's ending his time at MSU, Thelen still has goals to fulfill in East Lansing.
"I know a lot of athletes have come to our soccer games and I'd like to be able to make it to one event for every sport," said Thelen.
"It's crazy," he said about the Spartan athletics community. "It's definitely like a family. We've been to numerous volleyball games and women's soccer games. I mean, everybody, if they don't have practice or school stuff, they try to make it out to everybody else's games. I think that means a lot to athletes as a whole."
One of the most valuable things he gained while on the soccer team is his friendship with Kevin Cope.
"I have always looked up to my roommate Kevin," said Thelen. "He was Big Ten Freshman of the Year, captain the last two years and the kid knows the ins and outs of the game. If I have a problem or anything, I can always go to him and talk to him about it. Him and I have been roommates for five years, we've shared everything with each other."
For every bit of admiration Thelen has for Cope, Cope has admiration of his own for Thelen's growth during college in one area in particular.
"Confidence," Cope said. "When he came in, he didn't play to his full potential. Then as he continued to train hard and gain that consistency, his confidence grew and that's why he's been one of our better players the last two seasons."
Cope can also explain why they became such fast friends and why it's here to stay.
"Him and I are very similar on the field," said Cope. "That's why we connect so well off of it - morals, values, and stuff like that. It's a good relationship and it's been going strong for five years.
"He keeps telling me we're going to live on the same street when we're older. We'll see if that happens. We have a really good connection. It'll be a lifelong friendship, no doubt."