(Courtesy of the Naval Academy…)
Wave Ryder first gained national attention last November when Navy's junior safety was part of an answer on "Jeopardy." The category was "Great College Football Names." The answer — "Perhaps the most appropriate name ever, Wave Ryder, of this service academy."
Ryder said he heard about Alex Trebek mentioning his name on television from a friend who was watching the show "and was shocked as much as everyone else." It wasn't that big a surprise when the same answer popped up again on another "Jeopardy" competition this summer.
But Ryder, now a senior, and his younger brother Blaze, a sophomore who is the team's backup center, have become accustomed to some fuss being made about their names.
It began when they were growing up in a suburb of Honolulu.
"It was pretty good to have those types of names because wherever we went, people we met would always tell us, 'Oh, your names are so cool,'" recalled Blaze Ryder, who is just 13 months younger than his brother but is two years behind him in school after going to the Naval Academy Prep School.
Blaze Ryder said he also saw a recent post on Facebook that both he and his brother are on the all-name team among college football players in 2013.
Wendy Ryder said she and her husband, Mike, named their oldest son after one of their favorite songs, "Wave Rider" by Hawaiian reggae singer Butch Helemano.
Since Wave's name was tied to the water, an important part of their lives on the Pacific, they figured with Blaze, "we wanted to give him fire," their mother said in an interview Wednesday.
They might have given him a bit too much, according to Mike Ryder.
"Our parents taught us to work hard and be humble — Blaze pushes that a little bit," Mike Ryder said Wednesday. "He has what we call kolohe — a rascal — in him. Wave is much quieter."
The Ryders gave their youngest child and only daughter, now 17 and an aspiring volleyball and basketball player, a more traditional Hawaiian name: Kealani Kuuipo.
Having spent most of their college football careers getting more attention from others for their names, the Ryder brothers hope to make a name for themselves when the 2013 season begins for Navy on Sept. 7 at Indiana, where the 6-foot-2, 207-pound Wave is expected to start at rover and the 5-foot-11, 265-pound Blaze will back up Tanner Fleming at center.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said Wave Ryder has been able to withstand the tough-love coaching style of defensive coordinator Buddy Green, and has improved steadily since moving up from special teams his first two years to taking over after Chris Ferguson went down with an injury for part of last season. Ryder wound up starting six games at rover. His brother was on the scout team.
"Coach Green is a tough coach. He's a perfectionist, he's very demanding and it's hard. You've got to be a tough guy to play for Coach Green, but the end product is usually a pretty good football player," Niumatalolo said after practice Wednesday in Annapolis. "Wave's just stayed the course, what we call the 'furnace of affliction.' I think his humility has allowed him to keep working."
The Academy has apparently calmed down the younger Ryder brother. Niumatalolo, a former offensive line coach, said of Blaze: "He's a tough, hard-nosed player. He doesn't say anything — he just works. He's similar to a lot of players on our team. Quiet, just keeps working. He's got a bright future."
Wave Ryder wears No. 8, the jersey number that was last worn by Wyatt Middleton, considered among the top safeties ever to play at Navy. Ryder was a freshman when Middleton was a senior.
"I was honored to wear his number," said Ryder, who was credited with 53 tackles last season, including eight each in wins over East Carolina and Army, as well as making his first career interception against Texas State. "It is a big role to fill and I'll do my best to fill that role."
Secondary coach Keith Jones said Ryder reminds him a little of Middleton, perhaps not athletically but more in terms of preparation and approach.
"In a sense, he emulates Wyatt with his effort," Jones said. "He gets after you and works hard."
The work ethic for the Ryder brothers was set by their parents. Their mother owns a jewelry shop on Oahu and their father, who played basketball and football at the same high school they attended, has worked for the local power company as a lineman for 20 years.
Wendy Ryder said she and her husband have attended only three games since Wave was a freshman, but plan to attend all the home games in Annapolis this season as well as their first Army-Navy game in Philadelphia in December.
"They like seeing us out there," said Wendy Ryder, who estimates it will cost $2,500 alone for flights for the weekends they take their daughter. "We'll try to get in for practice Friday. No sightseeing, no nothing, just go straight to The Yard."
Wave Rider said he told his brother about the positives and negatives of academy life. It didn't hurt that Blaze's best friend and former high school teammate, sophomore linebacker Kikau Pescaia, had committed to play at Navy. Blaze Ryder said he had initially considered going to St. Francis (Pa.), a Football Championship Subdivision school.
While they play different positions on different sides of the football, the Ryders have a friendly sibling rivalry on the practice field. It is similar to the four other sets of brothers who currently play for Navy.
"Before practice we joke around with each other," Blaze Ryder said. "I tell him I'm going to cut[block] him, he tells me he's going to put me on my back."