PROVO — For the very best athletes, success seems written in the stars.
That's what Hollywood seems to tell us anyway.
The best of the best, Hollywood movies suggest, seem to have natural talent and the ideal body type, positioning themselves to get just the right break along the way to fulfill every dream imaginable.
An occasional Rudy gets thrown into the mix, but normally money, fame and athletic achievements are reserved for the elite of the elite, modern-day gladiators every sandlot kids aspires to become.
Somewhere in between those two vastly different extremes sits the overlooked role player, the athlete whose importance to the team is enormous and story is compelling.
Usually, though, those stories don't get told. Why? Because a role player doesn't need or want the spotlight.
Ryan Boyce fits that bill exactly.
The senior setter on BYU's men volleyball team would rather sit in an ice bath than draw attention to himself. Whenever he steps on the court, however, he's an absolutely integral part of the Cougars' team.
Near the end of a standout career, Boyce may not be the subject of any upcoming movies. But his strong work ethic has enabled many things to come together in his life — on and off the court.
The thing that's made Boyce important to BYU's team is the same thing that got him here in the first place: hard work. He combined with his older brother to start at setter at Huntington Beach High in California for five consecutive years before his hard work began to garner some attention from Division I schools.
Recruited by Penn State and Pacific, there was really only one school for Boyce, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Ryan was playing with his junior national team in a tournament in Salt Lake,” said Ryan’s father, Gary Boyce. “They crushed the Chinese national team and then beat the USA second team that happened to be coached by Tom Peterson, who was the head coach at BYU at the time. Ryan ended up winning the award for best setter of the tournament and when we got home we had an email from Tom. All it said was, ‘Ryan will be a Cougar.’ I can’t tell you how exciting that was for the whole family.
“That made things really easy," Gary added. "All we had to do when other schools expressed interest was to say ‘sorry, he’s going to BYU.’ As an LDS kid who loved volleyball, there really is no other school to consider."
For Ryan, that decision would play a huge part in the next seven years of his life.
“BYU was very accommodating for missionaries to go and come back," he said. "You don’t necessarily have a spot when you get back but I just felt like I needed to go on a mission. Everything has panned out the way it’s supposed to, though. I met my wife, played for BYU and still was able to serve a mission. So I have been blessed to have had the chance to come here. And now in two weeks I’ll find out if we’re having a boy or a girl.”
For many single college students, the simple becomes complex and dating becomes a Rubik’s Cube of distractions. Tara, Ryan’s wife of two-and-a-half years, has helped simplify things for Boyce, as well as help him improve his grades along the way.
“I don’t have to go find my best friend,” Boyce said. “I know where she’s going. It’s not like when you’re single and are always trying to find something to do. Which that’s fine. I had a great time doing it. But once I got married it was like, ‘shoot, life’s coming at you fast,’ and it’s taking care of a family, working and you grow up fast for sure.”
Boyce’s stability is an asset that BYU coach Chris McGown is more than happy to have on the court.
“I think it helps to have a guy that’s not prone to these emotional swings,” McGown said. “Like when all of a sudden ‘the world is ending’ or ‘woe is me’ type of thing. Being a little more grounded is in his nature and it’s a nice attribute to have at that position.”
According to Gary Boyce, Carl McGown, the former BYU head coach and current assistant to his son Chris, has been a force in Boyce’s development.
“He is coached by the best. Carl McGown is a legend,” Gary Boyce said. “He’s got probably the best volleyball mind in the country. Chris McGown is the same type of focused personality and it’s all business with those two.”
Boyce could not have chosen a better environment to help achieve his post-playing-days goals, his father feels.
“All he wants to do when he’s done playing is to coach,” Gary said. “With Alan Knight (team USA coach), Carl and Chris McGown and even Ron, they are all helping him and preparing him to be a great coach.”
Not only is Boyce receiving top-notch training, he’s getting a chance as a PE major and student teacher to employ what he’s learned.
“I’m at Mapleton Junior High right now teaching seventh- and eighth-graders,” Boyce said. “I’m doing some PE and weight training classes, so that’s been fun. I gave them extra credit to watch the (BYU volleyball) game and write up a paragraph about what they saw the other night. We’ve been doing a volleyball unit, so it’s been a riot to see them see what we’ve been talking about in class and then use it themselves. It’s really been a blast.”
When he’s not teaching seventh- and eighth-graders the intricacies of the sport, Boyce has a national championship on his mind.
“That’s what we want to do,” he said. “We want to win a national championship. It’s with the process in mind though. You can’t have that end result without the process. We understand that every day you have to work. You have to get better. And you have to do the things that will make your teammates better. So yeah, it’s on our mind, but for sure we understand it going to be a process.
"Coach McGown has really talked about that a lot this year and it’s a good lesson — not just for volleyball but for anything you want to do in life.”
Boyce’s attitude is contagious, and with the energy at the Smith Fieldhouse added to the mix, it’s no wonder the Cougars enjoy one of the best atmospheres in the nation.
“You know what? The best feeling is just setting a good ball and letting those teammates just go and rip it,” Boyce said. “Because you’ve done your part. The fans do love the hitters. I love the hitters, ‘cause it’s fun to watch. But we’re a team and we don’t care (who gets credit). I don’t care if the crowd’s yelling at me. Taylor (Sander) doesn’t care if the crowd’s yelling at him. If everyone’s doing their part, of course the crowd is going to be there.”
Were Hollywood to write a movie about Boyce, it wouldn't won’t end with the star becoming world famous — mainly because he doesn’t want to — but the stars have aligned in a different way.
He serves his church. He's playing at the school of his dreams. He found his wife. They have a baby on the way. And he's teaching the game he loves to children.
Just goes to show what can happen when you align the stars yourself.
Jonathan Boldt is the Editor-in-Chief of the UVU Review at Utah Valley University, and can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jboldt24.