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Former Marble Falls Mustang and tight end for the XFL’s Orlando Guardians relied on rodeo events to make ends meet while he was in between NFL contracts with the Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons. Courtesy photo
Ryan Becker feared his football career was over after being one of the final cuts by the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals in 2020.
“I think I was the very last rookie to get cut,” said the 2016 Marble Falls High School graduate, who played tight end for the Mustangs. “My tight end coach came over to my hotel and told me, ‘Keep your head up. You’re good enough to play in this league. I think if we had preseason games, I think you would have made our team.’ That drove me on and kept me training that whole offseason.”
With the future of his football career in flux, Becker moved back to Marble Falls to surround himself with the people who supported him throughout his life. To make ends meet, he competed in rodeo events while training for a second chance with the NFL.
“The money I made rodeoing kind of paid for what I needed to do for the year,” Becker said. “I made just enough to get by.”
That hard work paid off. Becker was drafted by the XFL’s Orlando Guardians in November 2022. Founded in 2018, the XFL serves as a minor league for players searching for another shot at the NFL.
“It’s an opportunity,” Becker said. “That’s what this is all about: an opportunity to get back. There’s a handful of guys on this team that feel the same way. I’m trying to make the most of it.”
Becker will make his debut with the Guardians on Saturday, Feb. 18, in a road game against the Houston Roughnecks. The game will be aired on ESPN and FX.
“I like our team here so far,” he said. “I think we’ve gelled pretty good.”
Before returning to the football field, Becker’s ability as a bulldogger helped pay his way and catapult him to the front of several area rodeo competitions, most notably one held in San Antonio in 2020.
“We went to San Antonio because all of the big roping events in Las Vegas were canceled,” Becker said. “I went there and won $13,000 in one weekend. That was definitely my big one that kind of paid for most of my year right there.”
Rodeo has always been something for Becker to fall back on since his dad, Mark, introduced him to the sport when he was a young boy.
“I’ve been rodeoing my whole life,” Becker said. “When I was born, my dad was passionate about it and kind of passed it down to me. There’s pictures of me when I was little riding little hobby horses and roping my dummy on it.”
In fact, Becker even considered quitting football in pursuit of rodeo before deciding to stick with the field sport.
“I almost didn’t play football my freshman year of high school because we had just bought a new horse and we were rodeoing heavy and I kind of was like, ‘Man, it’s time to start choosing what you want to do,’” he said. “It was kind of a decision. I almost didn’t play, but then I was like, ‘Man, I love football.’ I had to choose both.”
Football proved to be the correct choice, as it led to a full-ride scholarship to Southern Methodist University after then-head coach Chad Morris identified him as a perfect player for his spread offense system.
“I remember thinking there was no way I was going there,” Becker said. “I went up there for a visit with my parents and finally talked to Morris, and I ended up freaking falling in love with it. Coach Morris was a great recruiter and got a lot of good guys in there for a team that really wasn’t very good.”
During his four-year career with the SMU Mustangs, Becker played in 49 games and totaled 198 receiving yards and five touchdowns on a mere 16 receptions.
To recreate the same magic he had at SMU, which landed him his first job in the NFL with Arizona, Becker continued to train for his next chance at professional football. The six-foot-five, 248-pound tight end believed his prayers were answered after signing with the Atlanta Falcons in April 2021.
“I had five or six teams call me for a workout,” Becker said. “The first one I went to was Atlanta. They had me run routes and snap and the whole thing. As soon as we were done, they asked me what was my plan. I told them I had a few more workouts lined up for the next couple days. They told me, ‘Cancel your plans. We’re going to sign you right now, if you’ll sign.’”
An injury suffered several months after signing with the Falcons put him on the injured reserve list, and he was cut from the team in early November 2021.
“We were in a joint practice in Miami, and I broke my collarbone,” Becker said. “It was rough. I heard it crack when I hit the ground. The trainer put his hands under my pads and the bone just crinkled under his fingers.”
Becker received one final shot with the Falcons after injury rehab.
“They didn’t put me through any workouts,” he said. “They put me through a physical and re-signed me.”
The Falcons decided to cut Becker shortly after the 2022 NFL Draft. While Atlanta’s decision was emotional for Becker, the seasoned tight end refused to let it change his opinion of himself.
“It still sucks to pack up and go home, but it’s a part of the business,” he said. “Everyone learns it at some point. Everyone hears, ‘The NFL is a business. The NFL is a business.’ Yeah, it is. You don’t really know that until it happens to you.”
Refusing to give up on his dreams, Becker pursued tryouts with other NFL teams. But after failing to ink another contract, he sat down with his agent to discuss how to get his career back on track.
“I told my agent that I needed some film,” Becker said. “It was kind of a choice between the XFL and the (United States Football League). I talked with my agent, and we decided (the XFL) was the best option, so I put my name in the draft.”
Throughout his exhaustive journey, Becker has focused on remaining calm and collected to persevere.
“You’re only done when you quit and give up,” he said. “Someone told me when I started this whole process to never let your highs get too high or your lows get too low, and so keeping an equilibrium with your attitude is imperative.”