Aside from his expected degree in marketing next May, Ryan Signora has earned another achievement in college that eluded him in high school.
A senior offensive lineman for The College of New Jersey, the 2015 Steinert graduate was voted one of five Lions captains this year. It’s the first time in his scholastic playing career he has received that cherished mantel.
“It’s just very rewarding,” Signora said. “I’m incredibly blessed to have my teammates honor me with this. It means a lot that they think highly of me as a teammate and recognize the hard work I put in.”
It’s a well-deserved honor, according to TCNJ head coach Casey Goff.
“To gain that kind of respect from a group of alphas says a lot about an individual’s character and work ethic,” Goff said. “He’s a doer, that’s why he has earned himself starting and captain’s roles on the field; and that’s why I know he’ll be successful when he leaves this place.”
Signora’s new title will not change how he goes about things in games or during practice; but it will intensify his dealings with teammates.
“It didn’t change much in the sense of how I should be acting or carrying myself,” he said. “Whether you have a title or not, no matter what; you’re always trying to lead by example and help other guys along the way. It’s a little bit more responsibility in that I have to be here for my teammates and they know if they ever need anything they have somebody to fall back on.”
Signora is one of the Lions true seasoned veterans. After playing sparingly as a freshman, he started seven games on the O-line as a sophomore while also contributing to special teams. A coaching change resulted in Goff arriving from Defiance College in Ohio, along with new offensive line coach Donny Klein.
It marked the third straight season TCNJ brought in a new coach, but coming off a 2-8 season, the players welcomed the change and were immediately impressed with the semi-new staff.
“More so than anything, we were excited hearing that Coach Goff was coming in and we were maintaining at least part of our coaching staff and also adding on to it,” Signora said. “It’s exciting to see the program growing in a positive way for the future and we’re excited to see where it goes from here.”
TCNJ improved to 4-6 last year, and Signora raved about the job Klein did. As of Sept. 17, the Lions had a 0-3 record in 2018.
“He’s done wonders for our offensive line,” Signora said. “We’ve grown leaps and bounds under him.”
One of the most important moves Klein made was moving the 6-foot, 225-pound Signora from guard out to right tackle.
“Ryan’s heart and fight were his best assets,” Klein said. “He was very undersized for a college offensive lineman. I felt as though Ryan had been playing out of position and he really didn’t have a chance to succeed playing offensive guard versus larger defensive lineman in one of the best Division III college football conferences (the New Jersey Athletic Conference). So moving him to offensive tackle and letting him use his great athleticism, heart, and fight give him a better chance and he did a great job.”
Signora played right guard as a sophomore, where more importance is placed on strength than quickness. When the change was made, Ryan gained a new lease on o-line life and agreed with Klein is was a better fit.
“I feel very comfortable on the outside,” Signora said. “You go against a little bit more of finesse and agile edge rusher as opposed to big boys that you have to try to move constantly. It fits my style of play. I think it’s a good fit for me and I think I’ve excelled where I’ve moved to.” The re-alignment wasn’t quite as easy as Signora made it sound. While adapting to a new position, he also had to learn new terminology under new coaches. That gives a guy plenty to think about, but as a member of the Dean’s List, Signora was able to make the grade on the field as well.
“Ryan bought in to what coach Goff and the rest of the staff had been preaching and was in great shape,” Klein said. “He had tremendous knowledge of the playbook and continued to fight for 60 minutes. He really worked on his technique.
“It’s s a pretty big change moving from guard to tackle. At guard you have help on a lot of plays, where at tackle you are on an island a lot. So by working on his technique and becoming a technician as well as being a student of the game, it allowed him to overcome the adversity of being undersized, and he started coming into who he is today.”
It may have been a new position but it was not a new environment, as Signora has been an offensive lineman for his entire career. While many players would consider that life in anonymous purgatory, Signora relished it from the start.
“The offensive line is one of the most tight-knit groups in all of football,” he said. “It’s great to know that no matter what’s happening on the field, I’ll always have four other guys who will have my back and they know I always have theirs. That sense of unity was attractive to me and that’s what made me want to be an offensive lineman.”
According to Klein, one of Signora’s biggest improvements was with his size. Goff, not surprisingly, is big on players getting into the weight room. Signora did just that, and put on 25 pounds this past off-season to bulk up to 250.
For the Klein, his world is better with Signora in it.
“He is the kind of lineman every offensive line coach is looking for,” Klein said. “He is gritty, smart, coachable, tenacious and a leader. I expect him to be a mainstay of our right side and lock down that tackle position. His technique continues to improve and he knows what all five offensive linemen are supposed to be doing on every play. Take that, along with his gains in strength and weight and I am excited to see him reach his full potential.”
Signora’s progress is especially impressive considering he received very few college looks coming out of high school. As luck would have it, TCNJ was his top choice academically, and he was offered an opportunity to play by then-coach Wayne Dickens. It was the perfect fit.
Along with his football abilities, Signora has also contributed off the field. Last year, he spearheaded the Lions’ “Go 4 The Goal” efforts to support children with cancer.
A coach suggested he look into it, and Signora immediately took it to heart and encouraged teammates to purchase shoe laces, arm sleeves and other apparel; with much of the proceeds going to pediatric cancer research. Many of his teammates made the purchases and wore the laces during their games as a sign of support for the cause.
“I had a lot of help, my teammates were really great and they all worked together on this,” said Signora, refusing to take all the credit. “As I looked into it, I realized the cause is something that’s so important and obviously everybody has been touched by cancer in some way shape or form. It’s the worst feeling in the world to know somebody has to go through that. Once we started reading up on it and got the information and knowledge on it we thought it was too good to pass up.”
It was the kind of gesture that Goff has come to expect from Signora after just one year of coaching him.
“Ryan is a young man always eager to be involved and eager to help teammates, coaches, and others in the community,” Goff said. “He is the type of young man that wants to impact this world.”