OTHER ATHLETES DUBBED SUPERMAN HAVE EMBRACED THE NICKNAME. (Consider Dwight Howard. Or Shaq.) But one player who shies away from his Man of Steel moniker is Ryan Kerrigan. The Buckeyes defensive end has done plenty to earn the name—from benching 450 pounds to completely dismantling a No. 7-ranked Ohio State team last season—but he would prefer that you call him by a different name: Ryan. The one his friends use back home in Muncie, Ind. As just plain Ryan, he can be one of the guys, not the guy.
"The Superman nickname is kind of funny since I'm way more like Clark Kent off the field," Kerrigan says. "It might be a Midwest thing. People see me on the field and see how fired up I can get, but off the field I'm one of the calmest guys you'll know."
Last season the 6' 4", 263-pound Kerrigan came into his own, emerging as one of the Big Ten's top playmakers and one of the nation's best defensive ends. He led the conference—and ranked third nationally—in sacks (13), and he led the nation and tied a school record (with James Looney, 1979) with seven forced fumbles. And while he is just the latest product from Purdue's celebrated Den of Defensive Ends (which has produced such NFL players as Anthony Spencer, Shaun Phillips, Rosevelt Colvin and Ray Edwards), he might also be one of the best.
Like an auctioneer, coach Danny Hope rattles off a shopping list of attributes that make Kerrigan the entire package. "He's big, he's strong, he's smart, he's tough, he's even good-looking. He really doesn't have a flaw as far as what the NFL scouts say. He's big enough to go inside, he's athletic enough to play outside. He's strong enough to power rush you, and he's athletic enough to make you miss."
Away from Purdue's Ross-Ade Stadium, Kerrigan doesn't attract the same attention. Billboards around West Lafayette bear his likeness, but he's rarely recognized walking around campus. He lives in a house with seven roommates and is able to maintain the Clark Kent anonymity he cherishes so much.
Offensive lineman Nick Mondek, a roommate of Kerrigan's, says the defensive end with the extraordinary game lives a decidedly nonextraordinary life. "It's almost like a split personality," he says. "On the field he's so intense and focused; off the field he's just himself—relaxed, chill, soft-spoken and laid back."
With 21 seniors graduating from last year's team, Kerrigan says he has had to be more vocal as a leader than in the past. After leading by example for years, Superman is starting to speak up. "It's not something I'm used to, but it's something that has to be done," he says. "I'm not a very vocal guy...but when you are on the field, you have to do your job."
And this is why "Ryan" ditches the quiet demeanor and passive personality when he puts on his number 94 jersey.
"Being physical and relentless is something I have to do, and it helps my team," Kerrigan says. "In the heat of the moment, when all the fans are out there screaming, it fuels your fire and ultimately helps you undergo the transformation."
Where's the nearest phone booth?