‘I’LL KEEP MY HEAD UP’
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah., -- Not once, but twice, Ryan Cummings was asked to keep his voice down.
His booming vocals were drowning out his teammate who was giving a mandated formal post-game press conference just feet away. Cummings doesn't need a microphone or a podium to get his thoughts across.
Just ask his team's now agitated communication director.
Cummings, who says he isn't "cool enough" to be a sought out for an interview from the local media any way, is simply an excitable guy. He can't hide it.
“I’m a little showtime,” Cummings joked. “You have to have fun, right?”
Even as the bearded 6-foot-6, 315-pound lineman attempts to speak in a hushed tone, his smile -- and voice, once again -- automatically grows.
Cummings, who played on the offensive line at Wyoming from 2014 to 2017, just spent the past three hours paving the way for Utah running backs on a brisk March evening at Rice-Eccles Stadium. He is a member of the upstart Alliance of American Football League’s team in Salt Lake City.
He has a half-melted clear bag of ice on his knee. It does nothing to match the “ice” hanging from his left ear in the form of a diamond earring. He has a prominent tattoo on his left arm. It features the Denver skyline, an homage to his hometown. His white Rockies hat hammers home the point.
He loves his home state. He loves the square to the north, too.
Cummings turned down scholarship offers to Colorado, Colorado State, Indiana State and Northern Colorado.
He just wanted to be a Cowboy, he said.
“I even tell the CSU guys, who make fun of Wyoming, how great it was,” Cummings said of his current Ram teammates in Salt Lake City. “I had an amazing time up there. I met lifelong friends. Being around the people was amazing. I’d never take anything back. I don’t regret anything about my time there.”
In some regards, it’s amazing that Cummings is even here tonight. Becoming a professional football player was never a sure thing, especially after his rash of freak happenings at Wyoming. First, there was the broken foot. Then came the concussions. To make matters worse, in October of 2017 after a game at Boise State, Cummings was hospitalized with spinal meningitis.
“It seemed like one thing after another,” he quipped.
Did it effect his draft status?
“I felt like that had a lot to do with it,” Cummings said, before adding that he isn’t making excuses. “That’s the name of the game – you can get hurt on any play. You just have to roll with the punches and have fun while your out there. You can’t change what happens.”
Cummings is not your stereotypical offensive lineman. For one, he actually enjoys talking. He takes his job seriously but displays plenty of extra-curricular fun on the gridiron.
He takes on the appearance of a kid in the backyard after the Stallions scored their lone touchdown of the afternoon.
After running back, Joel Bouagnon, crossed the goal line late in the first half, Cummings lifted him high up into the air. That is a trademark move for the big fella. He did it in college with a couple of guys you may know – Josh Allen and Brian Hill.
He did in high school at Valor Christian with a small tailback with a famous dad – Christian McCaffrey.
“It’s just a little showtime for the lineman,” he smirked. “Just get some love, some camera time. The running backs love it. It shows they did such a great job. I’m not like the grumpy old dudes. It’s the opposite for me. I like to keep it fun, light and have a good attitude every day.”
Cummings also has a bit of a temper. Or as he calls it, a “mean streak.”
Before the first snap of the game against San Diego, Cummings could be spotted from the press box taunting the Fleet defensive line and linebackers. His team was in the huddle. Cummings was getting in a few last words.
He claims it was all in fun.
“I have a mean streak, but it’s completely different off the field,” he laughed. “I feel like I’m a really good guy off the field. On the field – there’s a whole other side of me.”
Cummings said he was undoubtedly the “most hated player” in the Mountain West Conference during his time in Laramie. He loves that reputation.
But his bright grin makes that hard to believe.
Especially on this day.
It’s hard for guys in either locker room to muster a smile. Sure, the Stallions won a defensive battle, 8-3, over the visiting Fleet, but word has started to spread that this could be the final contest for the new league and its eight teams.
Cummings decided to take the positive approach. Plus, he says, he has faith in the ownership of this league.
“There’s been a lot of talk that we aren’t going to have a job,” he says. “I’m fully confident that the league is going to be good.”
Despite the announced attendance on this night being less than 9,000, Cummings points to television numbers and the NFL’s need for a “minor-league system” that makes the AAF viable.
“Ultimately, we are a steppingstone for them,” Cummings said of the NFL.
Cummings received a couple of looks from the Seattle Seahawks and Houston Texans after going undrafted in 2018. Both, he said, were great experiences. But, ultimately, he didn’t make the cut. Cummings says that’s what he has loved about his time in Salt Lake City.
Despite practicing at high school stadiums, fighting for an indoor venue during the frigid winter months and securing a decent place to live, Cummings is keeping things in perspective – he’s still playing football.
No one knows that better than his Stallions teammate and former Wyoming defensive lineman, Mike Purcell.
Purcell had a solid four-year career in San Francisco. Then, in 2017, he suited up five different teams. Now, he too is in the AAF looking for a second chance. Purcell said Cummings is taking the right approach.
“He works hard and he’s really talented,” Purcell said. “He can make it one day. I really feel that.”
Cummings isn’t about to start predicting the future, he says. At this moment, he is worried where he will join his friend and teammate, Jordan Leslie, and his father, Lonnie, to eat a late Saturday night dinner.
But what if the worst-case scenario happens?
“I’ll keep my head up and hopefully get a call from league,” he said. “I feel confident. I should be getting a call from a team and get up to that next level.”
(Two days later, on April 2, the AAF closed its doors for good. The league website posted this statement: “This week, we made the difficult decision to suspend all football operations for the Alliance of American Football. We understand the difficulty that this decision has caused for many people and for that we are very sorry. This is not the way we wanted it to end, but we are also committed to working on solutions for all outstanding issues to the best of our ability. Due to ongoing legal processes, we are unable to comment further or share details about the decision.
“We are grateful to our players, who delivered quality football and may now exercise their NFL-out clauses in our contract. We encourage them to continue pursuing their dreams and wish them the best. We are grateful to our fans, who have been true believers from the beginning, and to our world-class partners. And to the Alliance coaches and employees who devoted their valuable time and considerable talent to this venture, we are forever grateful.”
In May, Cummings received a tryout with the New Orleans Saints. On April 22, Purcell signed with the Broncos.)