BY BOB WEINER
TROY — On the football field, junior cornerback Ryan Buss knows how to make the big play for the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers.
Yet the Shenendehowa High School product will make a larger impact off the field, when his biomedical engineering major will pay huge dividends.
“What I love about this football program is that academics is such a big part,” Buss said at Wednesday’s annual RPI football media day at East Campus Stadium. “The coaches care what you are doing in school, and so do the other players. They will help you or walk you through it. You have study halls beginning with your freshman year, and the coaches are always checking with you about your academics.
“Sure the course work in biomedical engineering is tough here, but all the majors are tough at RPI. When I graduate, I want to get into the biomedical field, either with X-rays, MRIs or CT scans. I want do something that has a direct impact on someone’s life. That’s the biggest and best part of going here to RPI. The important thing is how I can impact the rest of the world with my profession.”
Before Buss begins his career in the health field, he will play a large role in how well the Engineers can defend. A year ago, he started all 10 of the games he played in, making 37 tackles, 25 solo. He recovered a fumble, intercepted three passes and broke up a team-high 11 passes. As a freshman, Buss played in only six games, but recorded 20 tackles and two interceptions, including the game-clinching pick in the end zone during the annual Dutchman’s Shoes Trophy game against Union College.
“Every play, I’ve got a job to do,” Buss said. “Either it’s covering a wideout, working in the zone or making the play. I think, personally, my strong suit is coming up and filling the gap against the run, but I also like sitting back in the zone sometimes. Communicating on defense is extremely important. The ins and outs need to be called out, especially in zone coverages.”
It’s no surprise that Buss has excelled on the collegiate level after playing so well scholastically for the Plainsmen. Buss was a three-year starter at DB and was a two-time captain. He made the All-Empire first team twice, and was an All-Section II first-teamer as a senior. Buss was also a standout baseball player, starting for two years and winning a regional championship as a senior.
RPI head coach Ralph Isernia knows he is mentoring a different breed of player with Buss and so many of his bright teammates. More than half the players on the RPI roster are engineering majors.
“You’ve got these minds on this team,” Isernia said. “Maybe they are more analytical than what you’re used to. But we talk in black and white. You do get a little of that [overthinking things]. They are book smart, but we want them to be football smart. It’s not X plus Y equals Z. We want them to adjust to things on the run.”
Isernia was asked how many of the Engineers realistically believe they have a shot at playing in the National Football League after former RPI kicker Andrew Franks earned several tryouts and is currently trying to make the Miami Dolphins roster.
“Traditionally at the D-III level, it’s very difficult for someone to make the NFL. Andrew Franks had an NFL leg, but he didn’t have one right out of high school,” Isernia said. “The thing we tell our guys is that it’s always a possibility that something like that can happen, but the probability is that when they graduate in four years they’re looking at six-figure salaries. That’s their reality.”
RPI has 15 starters (nine offensive, six defensive) back from last year’s 6-5 team that made the ECAC playoffs.
“I think last year was great, all things considered,” Isernia said. “We went to the ECAC playoffs when no one thought we’d have a winning season. We had our starting quarterback injured, a starting lineman out and our safety out. Plus, we had a top-20 strength of schedule. This year, we have a top-25 strength of schedule. We’re not ducking anyone.”