Incoming rookie Uchenna Ofoha. PHOTO: MARISSA DEDEDER

The metamorphosis of the Ram

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Since Ryerson was established as a university in 2001, its athletic programs have long been overlooked. With the teams set to play their home games at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in the fall, things are about to change. Harlan Nemers reports

In one of his first games in a blue and gold Ryerson Rams jersey, the 6’5 Uchenna Ofoha showed a glimpse of potential at the under 21 Ontario University Athletics (OUA) tournament held at Kerr Hall Gymnasium this past February.

Ofoha gazed across the net at McMaster setter Christopher Spack. As Spack set up his teammate for a spike, Ofoha timed his jump perfectly to block the incoming spike with his fingertips.

Ofoha is just one of many recruits that will be suiting up for the Rams when Ryerson’s athletic calendar refreshes. Coaches whose teams resume their respective seasons in September have been scouting avidly since March; most coaches laid the foundation of recruiting well before the season ends.

Mirek Porosa, head coach of the men’s volleyball team, claims Ofoha is the most athletic player he’s seen in his 17 years of coaching.

Adding such an elite player is a testament to how much Ryerson’s athletic program has grown in the last couple years.

Ofoha’s decision to become a Ram over the three other schools interested in him, signals a shift in the culture of Ryerson sports. Many athletes value the opportunity to come to Ryerson and become the center piece of a rebuilding process more than becoming just another piece of the puzzle at another school.

Ofoha will look to have a similar impact in his rookie season on the volleyball team as young stars Jahmal Jones and Chelsea Briscoe have had before him.

“This university is the place to be,” said Ivan Joseph, the athletic director. “There is a huge surge of interest in coming to Ryerson. They are coming because of the new coaches, the new facilities and the academics. Our reputation is going from worst to first.”

Ryerson is gradually becoming a more attractive location for star high school athletes and students alike looking for a post-secondary destination. In the last three years alone, Ryerson has had more first-year applicants than any university in Canada.

Last year, Ryerson became one of the top Ontario universities students chose. Ryerson issued 25,453 offers and 32 per cent of those applicants registered in the 2010-2011 school year.

In mid-August, there were still over 8,900 students on waiting lists for admission, according to the office of admissions and recruitment. And it appears more and more athletes share their interest in the school, as there are 82 incoming recruits this upcoming year compared to the 43 last year.

The recruiting class of 2012 is the largest in Ryerson athletic history according to Joseph. Other reasons student-athletes are choosing Ryerson are the same ones that full-time students are interested in the university: they feel like it’s a small enough university where they can feel like a student and not just another number, they like the smaller class sizes are and you don’t have to go on a scavenger hunt to get from class to class.

It doesn’t hurt that the campus is located in the heart of downtown Toronto. While Ofoha ultimately decided on Ryerson because he lives close to campus and he is drawn to the civil-engineering program.

However, other athletes are finding the potential of playing at the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens this coming fall, the former home of the storied Toronto Maple Leafs, too much to pass up.

“The biggest incentive was the opportunity to play in the Maple Leaf Gardens,” said Brian Birkhoff, a first-year men’s hockey player. “That definitely sweetened the deal.”

“For any recruit coming in, whether Ryerson was on their radar before or not, now that Ryerson is going to be playing in the Gardens, any athlete would be taking a second look.”

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