Senior Spotlight: From retirement to game-winning: the circuitous path of football kicker Ryan Bloch ’23
A freshman walk-on, Bloch “fell out of love” with football before returning to execute the season’s top play to date.
When Ryan Bloch ’23 hung up his cleats last spring for what he thought would be the final time, he was the furthest from football he’d ever been. The thought of kicking a game-winning field goal, in other words, was a mere dream, if that. And yet, in the Big Green’s matchup against Columbia this season, that’s exactly what Bloch did.
With eight seconds remaining and a score of 24-24, Bloch stepped up to the opposing 25-yard line and blew a kiss to Columbia’s electric Homecoming crowd. A minute later, following a Columbia timeout meant to ice him in, Bloch took three steps forward, swung his leg through the football and sent it sailing straight through the uprights — securing a Big Green victory and the honor of Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week.
“Columbia was the best,” Bloch said. “That was definitely a core memory — a lifetime memory made.
But success like that hadn’t been expected. Unlike most players on the Big Green roster, Bloch was not recruited to play for Dartmouth.
“I got into Dartmouth on my own freshman year,” Bloch said. “I was trying to get recruited to come play and all that. I wanted to go somewhere for football, but it didn't really work out.”
So when Bloch received his acceptance letter, he accepted the offer without hesitation.
When Bloch first stepped foot on campus in the fall of 2019, though, head coach Buddy Teevens ’79 had different plans for him.
“Coach, he was like, ‘Hey, do you still have interest in kicking for the football team, walking onto the team, helping out at practice — being part of the team?’” Bloch said.
And an offer that good couldn’t be turned down.
“I was like, ‘yeah, absolutely,’” Bloch said. “That’s totally what I want to do.”
But the journey from walk-on to Division 1 FCS football wasn’t easy for Bloch. Although Bloch was technically a part of the team, he spent his first three years as a backup, not playing or traveling.
“It got to my junior year, the end of the junior season, where it was coming up on senior year,[and I still wasn’t playing]” Bloch said. “I really had to figure out my career stuff, I had to double down on my major — just life started getting really busy.”
Entering his senior year, Bloch said the competition did not let up for him.
“There was another kicker who was supposed to start,” Bloch said. “I wasn’t expected to see the field senior year. And I was like, I love football, but it’s just a giant time commitment that is not too high on my priority list right now. Like, I’m gonna take a break.”
So, that’s what Bloch did.
“I spoke with [Teevens], explained my situation, and there were no hard feelings or anything,” Bloch said.
But time — like Dartmouth’s quarter system — moves quickly and by the fall Bloch had an unexpected opportunity to return to football. The starting kicker at the time, Cameron Baller ’23, suffered a hip labral tear, which ended his senior season before it could start.
“During spring ball, at the end of my junior year, I started to have some hip pain,” Baller said. “And [the coaching staff and I] kind of didn’t really think much of it — maybe I just pulled a muscle or something. So, I took about eight weeks off, went back home for the summer, started to try to kick again. And the hip pain came back.”
Understandably upset, Baller called Bloch to explain the situation. Without a backup kicker, Bloch said that Teevens asked if he wanted to take the starting kicker job — and with about two weeks before the season began, he accepted.
“Just the thought of starting and playing sounded so great and something I really couldn’t turn down,” Bloch said.
Bloch said that upon accepting the offer, he immediately began weightlifting and practicing his kicking form to get into shape.
“Obviously it was unfortunate for me but a pretty exciting opportunity for Ryan,” Baller said. “If you know Ryan, he’s one of the hardest workers you’ll ever meet.
He added that although he feared his time away from the team would cost him because of the team’s ability to maintain a rigorous routine of eating, studying, and practicing together, he found returning to the team to be easier than he expected.
“The easiest part was how much love and respect I was shown,” Bloch said. “I think I got a standing ovation during meetings the first day or two when [Teevens] was introducing me to the young guys.”
Even while Baller was sidelined from injury, he said that he supported Bloch’s return to football in any way that he could.
“At some point, you have to move and realize we’re part of a team — it’s a team sport,” Baller said. “And so even if it's not me playing, Ryan has the opportunity to help the team, and so I'm gonna do everything I can to help him.”
But taking on the support role was easier because of the man Bloch is, Baller said.
“At the end of the day, Ryan makes it real easy to support him…and cheer him on as if I was the one doing it.” Baller said. “He's the kind of guy who always put in the extra time, never slacked off with anything. So, if anything, he deserves this opportunity more than anyone.”
It was only right, then, that Bloch agreed to play, culminating in his game-winning kick against Columbia.
“We’re thankful that he came out of retirement,” Teevens said. “He really did us a favor…he’s been such an unselfish player. For four years, he hadn't really had much of an opportunity. Kicked a couple [extra points], I think [a] kickoff last year, but that was about it. And now he's the guy we're counting on.”
Bloch now only has one more game until he hangs up his cleats — this time for good.
“I’ll be a Big Green football fan until I die, that’s for sure,” Bloch said. “[I’ll] come to as many games as I can and support in any way that I can.”
And though most Big Green players didn’t consider stepping away from the game, Bloch reflected positively on his football journey.
“If I did it all over again, I would say I have no regrets,” Bloch said. “It made me so appreciative of what life without football is like…[football’s] a great addition, it is so much fun, like it is amazing and teaches you a lot of things…but it was just kind of a good reality check.”