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Football: West alum Ryan Guthrie has joined ACC's ranks of elites at Syracuse
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West Forsyth grad Ryan Guthrie makes a call at linebacker for Syracuse during a game against UConn on Sept. 22, 2018 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. Photo courtesy Syracuse University Athletics.

As the clock ticked down to zero on Syracuse’s thrilling 27-24 upset win over No. 2 Clemson last season, former West Forsyth standout Ryan Guthrie took everything in.

He watched the students spill onto to the field over the railings and felt the roar of the crowd, and he knew in that moment that holding out for a big-time Division I opportunity, a decision that some people doubted him for, was the right choice.

“The Carrier Dome is the best place to play, I believe,” Guthrie said. “That homefield advantage at the Carrier Dome is unlike anything else. If you pack that place, it's very loud.

“It was shaking. I just remember seeing everybody run on the field... It was incredible.”

Since that first season with the Orange, Guthrie has become one of the top linebackers in the ACC, a result thought unthinkable as a late-blooming player with the Wolverines just a few years ago. But by taking an unconventional road to the top-flight college ranks through the cornfields of Iowa, Guthrie’s work ethic has paid off, even if there were some adjustments to his road along the way.

Former West head coach Adam Clack knew all about the kind of player Guthrie was. He had only been a starting linebacker during his senior season, but Clack had seen more than enough to vouch for him. But colleges didn’t see him the way Clack did – Guthrie couldn’t even get an in-state walk-on opportunity with his stellar grades, and the frustration mounted.

“It’s the worst part of the job — not getting kids recruited, I love that part,” Clack said. "The issue is those colleges have a really hard job, too. There’s a lot of really good football players out there. The measurables, the 40 times, the verticals, the game film — all that stuff, it’s hard to separate. Unfortunately, there’s no good way to quantify the intangibles of a young man like Ryan Guthrie. That’s what separates him.”

Ultimately, Guthrie went to Ellsworth Community College in Iowa to play for his shot. He thrived in his freshman season, earning NJCAA honorable mention All-American honors. The offers he never received after high school began to roll in. He took a visit to Akron, but it still wasn’t exactly what he was looking for. So he did the unthinkable: He stayed for another year.

“Everyone thought I was crazy for not going,” Guthrie said. “It didn't feel right and I risked basically my whole career to play another season at Ellsworth, banking on the fact that I'd have another good season and that I was getting offers.”

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Ryan Guthrie celebrates after making a play for West Forsyth during the Wolverines’ game against Northview on Sept. 26, 2014 at West Forsyth High School. - photo by Micah Green
There were times where Guthrie briefly second-guessed that decision to go back to JUCO football. But after a first-team All-American and first-team all-conference year, Guthrie received plenty of offers to choose from, and chose Tulane University.

At first, he was thrilled with the opportunity. He had proven himself and made it to a Division I program just like he thought he could. That feeling of accomplishment was fleeting, though. His never-settle attitude began to set in once again.

“I committed a little too early, I think,” Guthrie said. “I began second guessing myself. I don't regret anything about it. I didn't know what I was doing. I had never been recruited like that before.”

After decommitting from Tulane, time began to run out. Right before the deadline, Guthrie received a Twitter message from Syracuse defensive coordinator Brian Ward. The two began to chat, and Ward made the trip out to Iowa to visit him personally. Guthrie was offered a scholarship to play for Syracuse on his ensuing visit to upstate New York. Guthrie took it in a heartbeat, and this time, he had no regrets.

Although he played in all 12 games in 2017, Guthrie didn’t start at linebacker during his first year with the Orange, and saw a little bit of time at defensive end. He’s grateful for that shift for the opportunity to learn the defense from a different point of view. He’s also grateful for the friendships he’s made, including a close one with fellow linebacker Kielan Whitner, who played high school ball one county over, at Mountain View.

“We're both from Atlanta, we're both first-year starters,” Guthrie said. “Just seeing our growth from a personal standpoint and from a defensive standpoint has been huge.”

And Guthrie has. During his first year starting at the Division I level, he’s totaled 101 tackles and two sacks. During a double-overtime win over North Carolina, he totaled a career-high 12 tackles and recovered a fumble, earning ACC Linebacker of the Week honors. In late November, he was named second team All-ACC.

“I wanted to go to the best university, the best football school that I possibly could – the best of both worlds,” Guthrie said. “Getting that education and that high level of football is important to me and I found it. God blessed me with the ability to come and play here.”

Clack is now running a Milton program set to play for the Class 7A state championship. Although his time with Guthrie has been over for a few years now, the resilience his former player has shown throughout his career is still something he relives with his new team.

“I use his story speaking with kids early on in the year every year,” Clack said. “You can’t control necessarily where you’re going to end up. It doesn’t matter what we think and what you think: It’s somebody else’s decision. (Ryan) wanted to play football at the next level and was going to go and do whatever it took.”