Super Bowl champion and Colorado native Ryan Jensen, of the NFL’sTampa Bay Buccaneers, chases elk, bass, and anyone coming after Tom Brady.
Long before Ryan Jensen threw a big-time block on a football field, he was out in the field with his father Dean hunting deer and elk. “It was mostly big-game stuff,” Jensen says of his hunting youth in Colorado.
Last February, Jensen, starting center for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and main protection man for Tom Brady, went from hunting big game to playing and winning the biggest game of them all.
In 2013, Jensen was drafted out of college in the sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens before going to Tampa Bay in 2018. As an offensive lineman, Jensen doesn’t get the glory of the quarterbacks to whom he hikes the ball, yet Brady relies on him not only for smooth snaps but to weigh in with his 6-foot-4-inch, 320-pound bulk as an extra-large shield against onrushing defensive enemies.
Born in Rangely, Colorado, Jensen graduated from Fort Morgan High School and then went to Colorado State-Pueblo to play college football. A devotee of the outdoors, Jensen has been a Rocky Mountains guy all of his life, not only chasing down meat-providing animals but also fishing. When he was young, Jensen’s hobbies revolved more around those passions than team sports. “Just spending time in the outdoors,” he says. “To me, largemouth bass fishing is the most exciting, when they come flying out of the water.”
Jensen notched his first major kill in middle school during firearms season—when he was 13 or 14 years old. He was hunting on his grandfather’s neighbor’s property, when he brought down a cow elk. “It was super cold,” Jensen says. “It was late season, early December. We were trekking through one and a half or two feet of snow.”
Jensen was shadowing his father, who stood 6-foot-5. Only 5-foot-6 at the time, Jensen couldn’t see as far away. “She was lying down,” Jensen says of the elk. “It happened so fast. She raised her head.” Jensen dropped the animal at 20 yards and was dispatched to round up family members as reinforcements to help bring in the meat. The others came out on sleds. “That’s one of my biggest memories, and the look of pride on my dad’s face.”
FALL IS FOR FOOTBALL
Earning a Super Bowl ring is also something that Jensen takes great pride in. As a guy from a small college, who competed in NCAA Division II football, Jensen had to show more want-to for the scouts than players featured on the Power Five conferences’ televised games of the week.
“When I first went to college, I never thought I’d have the opportunity to play in the NFL,” Jensen says. “It’s crazy.” But eventually, at Pueblo, line coach Chris Symington took Jensen aside and told him, “You have a chance.” The encouragement motivated Jensen, and “eventually there were scouts coming to every practice and every game.”
In 2013, Jensen was drafted by the Ravens in the sixth round, then in 2018, he signed a four-year, $42-million contract with Tampa Bay— $20 million of it guaranteed—making him the highest paid center in the NFL. Jensen is still stunned by those numbers. When he called his father to tell him, his dad started to cry.
SUPER BOWL DREAM
In 2020, as Tampa Bay began to improve after starting out the season like they were running in sand on the local beaches, Jensen was probably asked 10,000 times what it was like to block for Brady, play with Brady, and when they knew Brady would lead them to the Promised Land.
Even a center, who the cameras leave the moment he slips the ball to the quarterback, was in the limelight. Jensen played a dominating game against the New Orleans Saints, regularly flattening linebacker Alex Anzalone. “Nothing personal,” says Jensen. Yet Jensen once explained his method of success to his father by citing tenacity vs. aggravation. “I like to be the guy who annoys you just enough to make you want to take a swat at him.” In the NFL, that leads to a penalty.
Indeed, that strategy was born in consultation with Symington, frustrating foes into making mistakes and drawing flags. It worked for guys like Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, and Rick Mahorn in the NBA. Plus, mix hustle and effort into the recipe.
Tampa Bay finished the regular season 11-5 and ran the table in the playoffs, becoming the first team in history to win the Super Bowl on its home field. Underdogs entering the game versus defending champion Kansas City, the Bucs swamped the Chiefs, 31-9. They took apart Kansas City’s vaunted offense early and overpowered Kansas City’s defense all day long.
A steamroller at the end, the Bucs kept sneaking up on people as they integrated Tom Brady into the team’s playing style while also allowing him to lead. In late November, Tampa Bay was just 7-5. In a way, the season unfolded in the manner Jensen’s football career has, with both getting steadily better over time. “It took a little bit of time,” Jensen says of the Bucs’ season. “We were kind of maturing. Late in the year we figured it out and won eight games in a row. There was a lot of work with a lot of payoff.”
There was considerable time for the Bucs to savor what was happening on the field, to realize they were going to be champs as the clock ticked off time. The Chiefs never made a run, and Tampa Bay owned the day. “We kind of had the game in our hands,” Jensen says. “It wasn’t a final play thing. It was an exciting time. There was an unreal amount of excitement.”
The much-publicized celebratory water parade on the Hillsborough River followed with Brady tossing the Vince Lombardi Trophy from one boat to another. “The whole city of Tampa came out there,” Jensen says. “That was probably my favorite moment of the Super Bowl.”
FINDING TIME FOR THE HUNT
As a guy who excels on the gridiron, Jensen can have fall scheduling conflicts. In Fall, football is king, but hunting is also in season. Stalking deer or elk sometimes must be sacrificed during Jensen’s active football days. But the outdoors is never a closed door.
Jensen and his wife Stephanie are introducing their three-year-old son and year-and-a-half-old daughter to simple outdoor pleasures at young ages. The family recently went camping in the mountains—which rise to 14,000 feet and higher—just after ice cleared out of the terrain.
While a world championship may be a once-in-a-lifetime reward for a professional football player, Jensen can’t wait to get back out in the woods again.
As a kid, the wildest football dream Jensen allowed himself was maybe being drafted. Now a Super Bowl champion, by way of a backroads highway called Division II, Jensen says, “It’s been quite the journey for me on the field and off—it’s definitely been fun.”
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