College football: McGregors earn more than awards at Carleton
Eric McGregor watched his collegiate football career come to an end 8 minutes, 49 seconds into the second quarter of the Carleton College Knight's seventh game of the 2018 season.
While returning a 37-yard punt from Augsburg University's Jake Kraft, Eric was tackled by Evan Bergemann and snapped his radial bone in the process. The senior Knight was rushed to the emergency room where he had eight screws and a plate put into his arm, but having his radius put back into place was less of a concern than keeping up with his team's game against the Auggies.
"I had one of my mom's friends FaceTime my mom so that as they were working on my arm I could watch the game," Eric said. "I was watching as everything was happening and the doctor was finnecking with my arm."
With Eric out, freshman Ryan McGregor moved over a spot in the Knight's defensive lineup to take over his brother's position for the first time all season.
"The game was coming down to the end, and Augsburg had a really good receiver (Nick Heenie)," Eric recalled. "He ran a slant over the middle — he had been killing us all game; he probably had 200 yards against us — but on the slant over the middle, he caught the ball and Ryan came up from behind him and tackled him and just ripped the ball out of his hands to seal the game."
Ryan's late, fourth-quarter fumble recovery led to a Carleton drive that ended with a Dylan Rye 6-yard touchdown catch. The Knight's took a 36-27 lead with 1:16 left on the clock.
"Having (Ryan) replace me in a position he had never played and making a potentially game-saving play was pretty huge," Eric said. "It was a pretty cool memory. Even though I was knocked off the field, he was out there to make plays."
Eric's recollection of the game that sent him to the sideline and Ryan's ability to adjust on the fly when called upon are prime examples of why the two brothers were highly regarded by their teammates and coaches. Ryan was named the Knights' Rookie of the Year and Eric became the team's 2018 Lippert Memorial Award recipient along with receiving co-Most Valuable Player honors and the team's Sportsmanship Award once the Ellsworth natives' first and only season of playing college football together concluded.
It's uncommon to find siblings listed on the same collegiate roster, but finding brothers who are equally well-liked and respected by their coaches and teammates is a greater rarity — unless you know the McGregors.
"We're best friends"
The two brothers, who are three years apart, run into a recurring question while attending Carleton College together.
"Something that comes up a lot is who is going to win in a fight," Ryan said. "But honestly, I have no idea because we don't fight. I can't remember the last time. Maybe when we were seven or something."
"I've talked to my friends who have brothers and this gets brought up because all of them have fought their brothers multiple times," Eric said. "We've definitely never gotten in a physical fight unless we were like little, little and started wrestling or something. But I don't think we've ever feuded."
"We're best friends," Ryan said.
"Exactly," Eric agreed.
Ryan's relationship with his older brother was what allowed him to transition to college life with ease during his first trimester at Carleton, and his endearing personality — similar to that of his brother's — allowed him to flourish in unfamiliar territory.
"It was nice having a brother there and someone to guide me along the whole thing," Ryan said. "I met a ton of people, and it's been a lot of fun. Everyone is from all over the place, so that's really different. I met people with way different perspectives on everything. There are so many bright people here."
Eric claims he didn't have to sell Carleton too hard to Ryan; rather, he just wanted to hangout with his little brother while they were apart, which initially brought Ryan to his future college campus.
"You helped me get accepted into the school," Ryan said.
Whether that's true or not, Ryan's first trimester at Carleton has been more than noteworthy. The freshman defensive back recorded 46 total tackles (sixth-best on the team), three fumble recoveries, two interceptions, the above-mentioned forced fumble and a touchdown in his first season of collegiate football.
"Ryan produced," Carleton's head coach Tom Journell said. "When we needed him, he stepped up and delivered. He played multiple positions and was reliable and dependable."
Andrew Derksen, the Knights' assistant coach who works primarily with defensive backs, said Ryan was one of many 2018 freshmen who made huge leaps during the course of the season. But if you ask Derksen what set the Ellsworth rookie apart, he'll tell you that Ryan was able to adapt to the college game quicker than his peers.
"Nothing really rattles him," Derksen said. "He is just really calm all of the time, and it's kind of hard to describe. He made some big-time plays for us this year."
Ryan's success as a freshman is largely due to his talent, work ethic and tranquility, but Derksen also gives partial credit to Eric.
"I really credit Ryan's evolution during the year and how much better he got not because of me but because of Eric," Derksen said. "It's really, really cool how you get to play your last year of college football with your little brother and vice versa with Ryan. Generally, college can be a little bit of a transition for freshmen, but you never really felt that with Ryan because he had his big brother there with him. It was pretty cool to see and be a part of that."
Ryan wasn't the only member of the Knights' football program who leaned on Eric during his transition period. Journell was hired by the Knights on April 23, 2018, and Derksen tagged along with him in May. Both coaches said Eric's leadership was greatly appreciated as they tried to get accustomed to their new team during a short period of time.
"Eric made our transition easy," Journell said. "He leads by example and by voice. Since Eric was around the program so much in the past, he understood many logistics and helped us coordinate operations so we could concentrate on bigger items."
Eric admits that he was nervous about welcoming in a new coaching staff not long before the start of his final season of college football, because he said the implementation of new game plans made everyone freshmen again. But after one season with Journell and his staff, Eric claims he can't say enough positive things about the new crew.
"(Journell) got hired super late compared to typical coaching turnover, which means that the staff he brought in got here super, super late," Eric explained. "I know our defensive coordinator didn't even come to campus before accepting the job. I think that speaks to the quality coach that coach Journell is; people want to be around him. He really brought a positive atmosphere and a needed culture change to our program."
The Knights finished with a 3-7 overall record in Journell's first season, which was the best record Eric and his teammates produced during his four-year career at Carleton. "It's not what everyone writes home about," Eric said, "but at the same time, three wins is more than I've had in the past three years at Carleton. Getting to be a part of what I feel is going to be a real positive change and a really good turning point for the program is something special."
Producing with positivity
Eric said he's jealous that Ryan still has three seasons with Journell and the new coaching staff and that not receiving an offseason training program was the first time it hit him that his time as a Knights football player is through. His coaches are equally saddened to part ways with their beloved senior leader who Journell said possesses constant positive energy.
"Everyone counted on Eric," Journell said. "He was all out, all the time. His work ethic on and off the field created the standard of performance. Because of this, everyone could trust Eric."
Derksen sees phenomenal coaching qualities in Eric, and said that his former player could have a career in his own profession. Eric will more than likely pursue a career in nutrition according to Derksen who has no doubt he'll succeed in any path he chooses due to his relentless drive. "He goes all out all of the time, and I think he does that with just about everything in his life," Derksen said. "He attacks everything, and he's a really good player. We're going to miss his production." Eric collected 37 tackles and an interception in his seven-game senior season, but his impact on his teammates goes far beyond the numbers.
"In my exit meetings with the rest of the defensive back players, everybody mentioned how they looked up to him and how they wanted to help fill that void once he's gone," Derksen said.
One such player: the eternally positive Ryan, who Journell expects to take on some of the leadership qualities the Knights will miss from Eric's absence.
Ryan believes returning next season without Eric next to him in the lineup will be another seamless transition, one he's able to crack a joke about now.
"Now I just know how everything goes," Ryan said. "It should just be like riding a bike. Now I have my training wheels off."
Eric laughed, again.
"I'll have my training wheels off next year," Ryan continued, "and I'll be able to fly."
"That's going to be a really good quote for the newspaper," Eric said in between laughs.
Per usual, the two blood-related best friends are able to make light out of any situation that comes their way. They stick to their brand of positivity by viewing their one year of playing college football together with gratefulness instead of pointing out the brevity of their shared time on the field.
"It's a pretty special thing that we got to do," Eric said. "We got to play in the same position group, we lined up right next to each other. So we spent all practice, all game together, which was something that not a lot of siblings get to do. Meetings six days a week, practice five days a week and we were together in all of those for hours a day. It's hard to put into words what it was really like, but it was something special for sure."
"It's just hard to explain," Ryan added. "It's crazy that at the college level we were able to line up right next to each other."
A bond that outlasts the box score
The McGregors reflected on the 2018 season by sharing memories of their 44-23 victory over Lawrence University, the game where both Ryan and Eric recorded interceptions.
"It was the second game of the year and it was the first game that Ryan was getting a lot of playing time," Eric said. "Having him get a pick-six, which is something I never got in my career, that was a really cool moment."
Or they recall the moments that didn't show up in box scores that only the two of them will understand the real significance of.
"There was a game where we were both going for a tackle and he just went head-to-head into me," Ryan said. "I was like, 'What were you trying to do?' He was like, 'Yeah, I know I was trying to get the tackle and I just missed it.'"
But their true love and pride for one another is pronounced when asked to comment on their own awards along with the honors given to the other.
"I voted for Ryan for the Rookie of the Year," Eric said. "I'm maybe a little biased as his brother, but I did feel like he was an incredibly impactful player for our team. Even as a freshman. He had two interceptions, a fumble or two—"
"Three," Ryan corrected him.
"Three maybe, OK," Eric continued. "It was really cool to see that he got that award and that the team recognizes not only the skills he plays the game with but also the effort he puts in in the weight room and in meetings and in practice to get better."
Ryan said being named his team's top rookie was "kind of cool" but that the highlight of his season was witnessing his teammates and coaches view Eric with the same adoration he has for his older brother.
"Everyone has such respect for him," Ryan said. "They just think he's such an amazing guy. It's just really cool to see that your brother is viewed that highly by the coaching staff and the team. It's just crazy."
And without fail, he capitalizes on an opportunity to take a playful jab at his big brother. "If it was based on pure ability, he definitely isn't the MVP."
"I agree with you 100 percent," Eric said through laugher.
"As far as what he contributed to the team, he definitely was the most valuable player on the team," Ryan said. "He would show up every day with an energy that just rubbed off on everybody. He definitely just leads by example. He just does everything the way that you should. He's respectful when he's talking to someone, and he'll tell you and show you how you should do things. If a coach had to describe one guy they'd want on their football team, it'd be Eric."
The zeal and labrador-like personas Eric and Ryan approach life with have resulted in a long list of lifelong friends and fans who're excited to watch the McGregors acquire more success as their lives unfold. But whether they're next to each other on the gridiron or separated by what life throws at them next, they'll always be each other's No. 1 teammates.