Century High junior Ryan Ratliff is pursuing two dreams.
Ratliff wants to be an aerospace engineer, he said, and he's eager to do an internship in that field next summer.
"I just like the whole concept and the understanding of what happens when you throw a ball through the air, and how planes fly," said Ratliff, who carries a 3.9 GPA and takes advanced placement classes in physics and English. "Stuff like that. It just fascinates me."
He's also determined to swim at the highest level in college.
North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are the two schools that interest Ratliff — who swims at the club level for McDonogh's Eagle Swim Team — the most.
The Eagle Swim Team is ranked 96th nationally among the top 1,000 clubs by USA Swimming. Scott Ward, the Eagle Swim Team head coach, said he believes the 6-foot-3, 170-pound Ratliff possesses the talent to swim at that level.
Ratliff has never been better in his young career.
"He should be able to swim at a major Division I level," said Ward, who also coaches the McDonogh School boys and girls teams. "Physically, he has some really good tools. Some kids get tight when the meet is coming, but he is so cool under pressure."
College swimming runs in Ratliff's family.
His brother Brad swam at Division III Denison University in Ohio and another brother, Chris, competed at Division III Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania.
Brad was part of a North Coast Atlantic Conference champion 800-meter freestyle team and Chris won a Presidents' Athletic Conference title in the 100 freestyle.
"I think we have kind of paved the way and set the bar high for him," said Brad Ratliff, now an assistant coach for the Eagle Swim Team. "Hopefully, he can achieve better things than we did. He has that potential. He definitely has pressure for that, but he handles it very well. He looks at it as a positive. He's like, 'I got a lot to live up to and I am going to do it."
Ryan Ratliff's finishes in the Tom Dolan Invitational in mid-December at the University of Maryland can only help his bid to swim at the next level — he had the meet of his life.
Ratliff achieved personal records in five freestyle events, the 50 (22.11), 100 (48:22), 500 (4:38.62), 1,000 (9:40.76) and 1,650 (16:03.96), along with the 100 (1:01.09) breast stroke.
"He's a late bloomer," Ward said of the Eldersburg resident. "It's pretty rare to see a guy have big drops in times like this. He dropped 16 seconds in 500 free, 15 seconds in the 1,000 free and a minute, 15 seconds in the mile from a year ago."
Those standout performances qualified Ratliff for the USA Future's championships, set for next summer in Cleveland.
"It's a meet for the top up-and-comers in USA Swimming," Ward said. "It's not quite junior nationals, but the next step would be junior nationals. He is on the path that USA swimming has designed for kids like him."
Ratliff said he spends a lot of time studying and training, and his practice schedule runs nearly three hours a day for six days a week.
"It's very exhausting," Ratliff said. "You are tired from school and you still have to practice. Then, you have to be active enough to get all of projects and homework done for school. I don't have much of a social life."
Ward attributes Ratliff's recent success to a growth spurt. He's grown four inches in the last year and added about 20 pounds, Ward said.
"He's gotten bigger and added more size in a good way," the coach said. "He's also gotten stronger. His body is maturing. His explosion is not that typical. He's really come on strong."
Ratliff shined at an early age for EST in the USA Swimming Maryland State Championships, which he has competed in for the past eight years. He placed second in the 50 free and third in the 100 fly and 100 free during his first the second one. Two years later, Ratliff took third in the 100 free and 50 free.
Ratliff continues to compete at the South Carroll Swim Club, where he got his start in 2007.
"I started swimming there, so even though I swim year-round with the other team, I have to go back and contribute to them," he said. "Summer swimming is as important to me as winter swimming."