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Wed., Aug. 19, 2009, 4:11 p.m.

Vena leads WB/S to title game

Spokane’s Frank Morton Jr. gets a hand in the face of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton quarterback Ryan Vena on Saturday, July 11, 2009, at the Spokane Arena. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane’s Frank Morton Jr. gets a hand in the face of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton quarterback Ryan Vena on Saturday, July 11, 2009, at the Spokane Arena. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

We checked in with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton quarterback Ryan Vena, whose name is prominent in the af2 record book, by telephone this morning.

Read on for my unedited feature on Vena (No. 5 in the picture above).


By Jim Meehan

Staff writer

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Ryan Vena doesn’t necessarily look the part of the prototypical professional quarterback.

He knows he’s added a few pounds since beginning his pro career in 2002. And if he didn’t, opposing fans who watch the 6-foot, 225-pound arenafootball2 veteran during warm-ups usually remind him.

“I hear everything,” said Vena, who will direct the Pioneers (16-3) against Spokane (18-1) in Saturday’s ArenaCup in Las Vegas. “Because my last name is Vena they’ve called me ‘vienna sausage’, everything you can think of. In all honesty I feed off that. I’ve always been an underdog, not only with my stature, but I’ve always played on an underdog team.

“It’s something you deal with. That’s sports, some thrive off it and others don’t.”

Vena has been thriving for eight years in the arena game, including six in af2. The 31-year-old has been first-team All-af2 four times, including the last three years. He was the league’s offensive player of the year in 2007, when the Pioneers dropped a touchdown pass late in the game and lost to Tulsa 73-66 in the ArenaCup.

“I’m getting older and putting on a couple of pounds here and there,” Vena said. “I may not look amazing in my uniform, but I definitely play with the best of them. I let my play talk on the field.”

Vena’s career speaks volumes, and he seems to be doing his best work of late. Vena (pronounced Ven-uh) pitched an af2 playoff record 11 touchdown passes against Kentucky two weeks ago. He’s passed for 24 touchdowns, run for two and tossed just one interception in three playoffs wins. He hasn’t been sacked since July 24th.

“He’s been around this league and he knows how to move in the pocket,” Shock defensive end Ben McCombs said. “He knows when and how people get open and how to read defenses.”

Spokane defensive coordinator Alex Sirianni said he’s more impressed each time he watches Vena. “He throws well off his back foot, he gets the ball out when pressure is on him,” Sirianni said. “Great quarterback, great leader.”

Vena’s scrambling ability is often overlooked. He has the most rushing touchdowns in af2 history and is third in career rushing yardage.

“There’s something about this playoff year and this season that just feels different in my mind,” Vena said. “It’s very special. I’ve had a great feeling since we started the playoffs. We’re playing great on both sides of the ball and we have a special group of guys.”

Vena helped the Pioneers to a 31-28 halftime lead over Spokane last month, but he threw three of his four interceptions in the second half as the Shock rallied to win 56-52. He admitted it wasn’t his best effort and head coach Rich Ingold didn’t disagree.

“We were controlling the game and two picks put us behind the 8-ball,” Ingold said. “That’s what we’ve got to correct and believe me, he’s corrected that. When he plays his best is when he’s playing with emotion and getting on guys.

“It’s no secret. We go as far as he takes us.”

Vena was born in New Jersey, but moved to Colorado as a youngster. He moved back to the East Coast when he signed to play for Colgate. There, he started the fourth game of his freshman season and the team immediately snapped a 16-game losing streak.

He went on to be named Patriot League player of the year three times and was later inducted into Colgate’s Hall of Fame. As a senior, Vena was interviewed prior to a big game against Lehigh.

“We’ll beat them,” Vena said. “They’ve got to stop us, and I don’t think they can.”

Vena passed for 182 yards and ran for 83 more as Colgate overcame a 17-0 deficit and won 28-24.

“I’m confident,” he said earlier this week. “If I think I have a good team, I’ll state it. I was asked if I thought we’d win and I said yes. Any competitor thinks they’re going to win.”

Vena didn’t offer predictions for Saturday’s game, but he knows a victory would help fill one of the few voids on his resume.

“It’s important to go out and to win it,” he said. “Obviously everybody plays because you want to win. Look at Brett Favre: Why do you think he wants to keep playing? It isn’t so he can keep getting beat up. It’s to win a championship.”


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Jim Meehan
Jim Meehan joined The Spokesman-Review in 1990. Jim is currently a reporter for the Sports Desk and covers Gonzaga University basketball, Spokane Empire football, college volleyball and golf.

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