NORTON SHORES, Mich. (WOOD) — It has been a difficult week for the Mona Shores High School community.
One of their own students, 16-year-old Ryan Leany, drowned in Lake Michigan on Wednesday. He was going into his junior year at Mona Shores High School.
Five of Ryan’s football teammates, also incoming juniors, told News 8 on Saturday the team won’t be the same after Ryan’s passing.
“He was like the heart and soul of our team honestly,” Trent Rosenthal said.
Another teammate, Luke Emmons, said Ryan was “one of the sweetest kids you’d ever meet.”
“He was never being rude, never being mean, never angry at anybody, just always there and always kind to everybody,” Emmons said.
After playing for JV last year, Ryan was going to play varsity football on the defensive line this fall.
“When he lines up on the defensive line, he’s maybe 120 pounds,” Rosenthal said. “He’s going against these 300-pound kids. He just doesn’t care. He’s gonna stick his nose in there and get whatever he can. He’s gonna work his hardest no matter what.”
Ryan’s teammates said he moved from St. Joseph about a year ago. He was also on the robotics team at the high school.
They called him one of the most dedicated football players around.
“Whatever you needed from him, he’d always do it,” Hayden Terpstra said. “He never complained about anything.”
At halftime, Ryan would run out and join the school band.
“There’s not many people on our team that are in the band, going out at halftime, performing for the band…then going and playing in a football game,” Andrew Baker told News 8.
The last time they saw Ryan was on Wednesday during a weight lifting session.
“Everyone was gathered around him when he was trying to hit his max on the bench,” Emmons said. “Everyone was just going wild. Everybody was just cheering him on.”
That night, Ryan was at North Beach Park in Ferrysburg with his church group. He got swept away by the waves.
Crews found Ryan but could not revive him, according to the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office. His teammates found out what happened shortly after.
“I just broke down and started crying,” Emmons said. “I had to go sit down with my mom and I sat there all night. I didn’t really get to sleep that night. Because I was just up all night thinking about Ryan and how unfair it was.”
“It almost didn’t feel real,” Eric Cotner added. “I’ve never really had to deal with something like that. We were all with him that morning.”
“It’s just one of those things that you can’t really get out of your head,” Emmons added. “Somebody that you see every single day that’s your age. I can’t get it out of my head, thinking about our friend.”
On Thursday, the team returned to the weight room.
“That was definitely the hardest day,” Cotner said. “Nobody even lifted that day. We all just sat there with each other in the weight room and tried to make sense of everything.”
Their head coach, athletic director and principal were all there.
“That was really nice of them,” Cotner said. “It just made us feel we had someone if we needed to talk to someone. We had someone who has our backs. Those people obviously mean the world to us. That they took time out of their days to come help us and make us feel better.”
During this tough time, the players have been there for one another.
“Nothing can compare to how I felt just being with my teammates, the people I spend every day with,” Emmons said. “The tragedy has just brought us closer as it does,” Emmons said. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt this kind of overwhelming love from teammates before.”
The Mona Shores Sailors are honoring Ryan’s memory this season and beyond. Terpstra said the team has a motto called “war, work and results.” They used to chant, ‘war on three, shores on six.”
“Now we’re gonna say, ‘Ryan on three, shores on 6,’” Terpstra said.
“When we finish practice or finish lifting or whatever it is, we have that little thing to commemorate Ryan,” Emmons said.
It’s a huge loss for this team and community, with a young life taken too soon.
“He’s one of a kind,” Rosenthal said. “Nobody’s like him. No one has a size of heart he does for the team and for people.”