10 Year Member
Nice article on Ryan and his family....
The Klachko family, from lef:, Paula, Seda, Ryan and Michael. Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register
The Klachko family, from lef:, Paula, Seda, Ryan and Michael. Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register
http://www.sj-r.com/sports/x966117591/The-Russian-a-force-for-SHG-football-team?img=2To Sacred Heart-Griffin High School football fans, Ryan Klachko is the flag-toting, hard-charging behemoth wearing No. 77 who tears the biggest chunk out of the cheerleader-made banner when leading the Cyclones onto the field every game.
To the SHG coaching staff, he’s “The Russian,” an offensive tackle/defensive end who is as good as he is mean on the football field. He’s also a player who, through hard work, coaching and the chance to grow into his 6-foot-4, 280-pound frame, has turned into perhaps the most highly sought-after college prospect the school has ever produced — the No. 9-ranked offensive guard prospect in the country, according to Rivals.com.
To his family, he has always been “Ry-guy,” a talkative, good-natured kid with a quick smile who has been the biggest physical presence in his household since middle school.
Klachko will sign a letter of intent to attend the University of Nebraska in February, and a few months after that he’ll arrive in Lincoln to begin his college career.
Size, talent, work ethic and ferocity on the field all helped Klachko get to where he’s going.
Understanding the origins of that fire requires a look at where he came from. That story begins in Moscow, with his father, Michael Klachko, 30-some years ago.
Michael Klachko’s personal Independence Day was June 17, 1981 – the day his family’s flight touched down in New York City. He had emigrated from Russia with his parents, brother and grandmother. All he carried was $100, one suitcase and a piece of paper with his picture and birth date, declaring him a refugee.
The Klachko family had decided in late 1979 to leave Moscow. They capitalized on family heritage and religious sentiment just to apply to leave.
“There were not many ways to get out of (the) Soviet Union,” Michael Klachko said. “One of them was to declare yourself a Jew. My father, God rest his soul, was of Jewish descent, so we played that card.”
Merely applying for exit had its consequences in the Communist state. Michael was kicked out of graduate school, where he was studying computer engineering management. His father was forced out of his job as a mechanical engineer for a food processing company. Once they announced their intention to emigrate, neither was allowed to have a job commensurate with his education level. Michael worked in construction, and his father became a night watchman.
The other, bigger problem was that the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan, which strengthened the grip of the Cold War. Emigration to the U.S. ground to a halt — until Ronald Reagan became president.
“On the night of (Reagan’s) inauguration speech, there were about 20,000 people waiting for permission to leave Russia,” Michael Klachko said. “Not for permission to get to the United States, but just to leave the Soviet Union.”
That same night, however, postcards were sent to 500 Moscow residents telling them they were being awarded exit visas. “It was a move on the part of the Soviet authorities to show the new administration that Russians are willing to play ball,” Klachko said.
The Klachko family received one of those postcards. Two weeks later, they left on a flight to Vienna, Austria.
“You pretend you’re going to Israel,” Klachko said. “We land in Vienna, and it’s the Austrian authorities. I’m not sure how it all works, but the long and the short of it is they ask you where you want to go. You’re a free man, you can go anywhere.
“All I’ve got is a piece of paper. I still have it; it’s a piece of paper with my photograph, name, birth date and stamp and exit visa …”
A framed picture of Reagan hangs in the Klachkos’ Chatham home.
“Whenever there’s a (school) paper on who’s the best president, it’s always Reagan,” Ryan Klachko said with a laugh.
“It’s not political, it’s emotional,” Michael Klachko said. “The man gave me a way out. I don’t care about anything else. The man got me out.”
After a brief stay in the East, Michael Klachko scraped up the money — $112 — for a plane ticket to Los Angeles to stay with friends of the family who had come to the U.S. earlier.
He didn’t speak much English, but made ends meet by working as a janitor, taxi driver, newspaper deliveryman and draftsman. His ability to draw overcame the language barrier.
A three-month computer-programming course helped him pick up his education where he had left off in Moscow.
By 1985, Klachko landed a job with Electronic Data Systems. He took a transfer to Michigan, where he met a woman from Massachusetts named Paula, who soon would be his wife.
“Eventually, I’m pretty sure we would get out, based on how history developed,” Michael Klachko said. “(But) it would have taken another 10-15 years, and would’ve been even harder, because I would’ve had a family.
“I immigrated, and I never regretted the fact that I did. Having gone through it, to do it again, I probably wouldn’t of. It’s very difficult.”
Born to play
The Klachkos were living in Massachusetts when Ryan was born in 1993. He seemed destined for football from Day 1.
There was no growth spurt, not one summer when his legs magically grew six inches. Ryan Klachko was a big boy from the moment he entered the world.
“He was 9 pounds when he was born,” Paula Klachko said, “and within three weeks, he was eating food nonstop.”
Friends told the Klachkos that Ryan should be playing football, so he was one pumped-up fourth-grader on the ride to sign up to play Pop Warner football.
“My mom took me to the field, and we were like the last ones to register,” Ryan remembers. “We were so late.
“We got out of the car, and the coaches were like, ‘How old are you?’ I was 7, and they looked at me, and they busted out the scale and everything. I was too tall. I was too big. They even made me go to the bathroom.”
Ryan would have needed to cut off a leg to get under the weight limit, which is now 90 pounds for players between 7 and 9 years old.
“They weighed him three times,” his mother said. “He was 30 pounds over the weight limit, and that was it, that was the rules. They said he couldn’t play, that he’d have to wait till high school -- but they’ll love him in high school.”
To say Ryan was crushed was an understatement.
“I was heartbroken. I was bawling. I wasn’t crying, I was bawling. So what do we do? We went and got more ice cream,” Ryan said with a laugh.
As it turned out, he got his chance to play much sooner than he expected.
Michael Klachko was looking to make a career move and had been recruited by a number of companies, including Horace Mann in Springfield. But Paula was happy with her career and living in the midst of her family.
Then, however, she lost her job in economic fallout of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. By November 2002, the Klachkos had settled in Chatham.
Not so fast
It didn’t take long to find out that size didn’t matter in youth football in central Illinois.
“We were playing baseball one day, and somebody asked, ‘What the hell is this kid doing playing baseball?’” Ryan said. “Mom said, ‘He’s too big (for football).’ And they said, ‘There’s no weight limits out here.’”
The first visit with Chatham Community Football League coaches became family lore. When Ryan’s parents asked if he could play, the coaches broke into an impromptu impression of the Kool-Aid Man.
“They were like, ‘Ooooh, yeah,’ ” Ryan said with a laugh.
Chris Kerr, Todd Wise and Pat Dowling were among Ryan’s first coaches in the CCFL.
It didn’t take long for Ryan to realize that he and football were a natural match.
“In seventh or eighth grade, they had a five-man sled up there, and Coach Wise would always stand on it with one leg and put his other leg up on the metal,” Ryan said. “Coach (Bryan) Joos would say, ‘Whoever knocks off Coach Wise gets a dollar.’ I went through one time and I hit it really, really hard, and he fell back, but he grabbed and hung on. Then I went again and hit it as hard as I could with perfect form, and knocked it back. I actually broke the sled when I did it and knocked off the coach.”
When he arrived at SHG, Ryan found a mentor in the late John Sowinski. Sowinski and the rest of the SHG coaching staff saw the potential in Ryan, so they went to Michael Klachko to ask if they could give Ryan a bigger workload.
“I said, ‘He’s yours. As long as it doesn’t make him sick, go for it,’ ” his father said.
Ryan and Sowinski were inseparable up to the coach’s death in March of 2009, and Ryan credits Sowinski with teaching him more than just technique. It was Sowinski who taught Ryan to play with intensity, to be “The Russian” when he’s on the field – but perhaps more importantly, to leave that crazy side of himself between the lines.
“When ‘The Russian’ comes out, it’s a dangerous thing,” Ryan said. “It’s a switch. It’s easy for me to turn it on and off.
“Sometimes it gets flipped on when it shouldn’t be, but it’s an on-off switch. That’s a big thing that Coach Sowinski taught me. You don’t have to be a (jerk). You don’t have to be someone who is mean and malicious off the field.
“When you’re on the field, rip somebody’s head off and feed it to them in front of their family. That was Coach Sowinski. That’s what he taught me, but off the field, be respectful, buy a woman flowers,” he said. “Come home and kiss your mother. Knowing that being on the field, you have to be different, but off the field, that mentality hurts more than it helps.”
Every time Ryan takes the field, he does so with a strong sense of self. It helps that half of his family tree is symbolized by one tangible item.
“In our storage room, we still have the suitcase,” Ryan said. “It’s not like there’s one suitcase and a backpack, there’s just one suitcase, where we came from. One suitcase. It’s kind of cool knowing that.
“I’ve been given a gift. Your size and strength are a gift. I don’t forget that. A lot of things could be different. My dad was one of 500 out of 20,000; that’s not good odds. You’ve got to remember that there’s more to it than what you think and you’ve got to be very thankful.”
Circumstance smiled again on the family after Ryan chose Nebraska from a basketful of offers from Division I college football programs. The Cornhuskers will be in the Big Ten starting next year, so the longest drive the family will have to make to see Ryan play is to the school’s home games in Lincoln, Neb.
“It’s almost funny, all the things that have worked out,” Ryan said. “Nebraska, and everything Nebraska offered, it almost becomes funny, when you think about it. It’s like, ‘OK, God, I got the joke. I knew I made the right decision, but it feels meant to be.”
Michael Klachko almost took a job in Omaha, Neb., when the family moved in 2002. But the Klachkos will be back plenty over the next four or five years, watching their Ry-Guy become “The Russian” in front of more than 80,000 fans in nearby Lincoln. How did it all happen?
“Paula’s family, my family like many other families, it’s the same attitude,” Michael Klachko said. “Don’t give up. Just work for it.”