WILLIAMSBURG — The last time Matt Ryan had touched down in Virginia, he crushed the hopes of thousands. Tuesday's visit was far more benign.
Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons' Pro Bowl quarterback out of Boston College, appeared at William and Mary's youth football camp, interacting with the kids and reliving his own childhood.
This was, Ryan surmised, his first trip to the state since 2007, when on a Thursday night now infamous to Virginia Tech faithful, he threw two touchdown passes in the waning moments to give second-ranked Boston College a 14-10 victory over the No. 8 Hokies in rainy Lane Stadium.
Tech avenged that defeat in the ACC championship game, but the October comeback helped Ryan earn ACC player of the year honors and a place in BC lore just below Doug Flutie. The Falcons drafted Ryan with the third overall pick the following spring and haven't looked back since.
Joining a franchise still staggering from Michael Vick's messy departure, Ryan started from Day One and has led Atlanta to five consecutive winning seasons and four playoff appearances. Prior to his arrival, the Falcons had never enjoyed back-to-back winning records.
"I think consistency's probably the hardest thing to … maintain throughout your professional career," Ryan told reporters Tuesday. "To me it all comes down to working hard. You have to remain focused on what's important. … I think it's easy with all the distractions that come with playing in the NFL to lose sight of that."
The Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson and Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck, who both quarterbacked their teams to the playoffs as rookies last season, preceded Ryan at W&M's camp this week, and either would be fortunate to follow Ryan's career arc.
Yes, he's only 1-4 in the playoffs, the stage where greatness is measured and revealed. But his numbers have steadily improved, and last season he posted personal bests with 4,712 passing yards, 32 touchdown passes, a 68.6-percent completion rate and 99.1 passer rating.
Not coincidentally, the Falcons went 13-3 and reached the NFC championship game. But playing at home, Atlanta squandered a 17-0 lead and lost 28-24 to the San Francisco 49ers.
"Certainly we haven't reached where we want to be at this point," Ryan said.
The Falcons, especially on offense, have Super Bowl talent. Receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones are back, and tight end Tony Gonzalez, a future Hall of Famer, delayed retirement. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter enters his second season after interviewing for head-coaching positions, and the team acquired former St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson.
"We've been together for a while now, the core of our football team," Ryan said. "I'm excited about what's in front of us, what we're capable of doing, what we know we're capable of doing. …
"I think Steven will be big. He's obviously a great player, been one of the best running backs in the league for the last (nine) years. His style of play and his skill set fits in well with what we do. He's very good at catching the ball out of the backfield. He's very good at pass protection. He's very good in one-back running schemes."
Jackson rushed for 1,000-plus yards the past eight seasons, but given the position's burdens, he's ancient as he approaches his 30th birthday next month. Conversely, Ryan turned 28 in May and should be hitting his prime.
Ryan said Koetter has "a great understanding of how to get the best out of the guys we have. He's pushed me to become a better player, and I appreciate that."
Ryan also praised Tom O'Brien, Virginia's associate head coach for offense. As Boston College's big whistle from 1997-2006, O'Brien recruited Ryan and coached him through his junior season.
"I really enjoyed playing for him my time at BC," Ryan said. "The thing I always loved about him is you knew exactly where you stood with him. He's not much for nonsense … but if you handled things the way you're supposed to, you were always good with Tom.
"He's still a guy I keep in touch with and (he) has obviously meant a tremendous amount to my career and to me personally."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun