May 10, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
It’s all gravy now for Ryan Smith, and he’s earned it.
You might not know much or anything of Mr. Smith, who despite having an ordinary name is anything but.
Being one of five seniors on the Georgia Tech men’s tennis team that, this weekend will host an NCAA regional for the second time in school history, does not make him stand out.
But being the only one of them to graduate last Sunday set him apart, and he stood out among all graduates, too, graduating with highest honors and a 3.77 grade-point average in biochemistry.
Rarely content, the former Lassiter High star separated himself from the “highest honors” crowd as well. Smith, after all, already has a job – a real one. He’ll start making gravy (real money) June 20 when he begins a six-month training program in Midland, Mich., with Dow Chemical.
Oh yeah, the guy’s a heck of a tennis player. You might call him a doubles specialist, as he and Eliot Potvin have put together a 22-10 record at No. 3 singles this school year, 15-7 this spring.
Coach Kenny Thorne said the doubles point in team match play, which requires winning two of three doubles, “is huge. When you have two equal teams, you can lose the doubles point and win but it doesn’t happen too often. Winning the doubles point, and having to win just three of the six matches is a big deal.”
Smith’s teammates tease him about having obsessive-compulsive disorder, “which I don’t,” he says, and Thorne said, “he’ll get guys organized for stuff, like community events. You go in his room and everything is absolutely in place. It may drive the other guys crazy.”
Smith would go nuts if it were any other way.
“I am very organized. If something is out of place, it kind of irks me,” he said. “That has helped me at Georgia Tech, which is a very hard school. There are always a lot of different things going on at one time. I like to write things down, and know what I have to do.”
Of late, Smith has had to play doubles. He played 64 singles matches (30-34 record) as a freshman and a sophomore, but has played a total of 17 in the past two years (10-7).
“It was a situation where some of the guys who came into the team were better singles players than I was,” he said. “Some of the other guys were more equipped. My game, in general, is more suited for doubles. I come to the net more, and volley more, than some of the other guys.”
Thorne offers more detail: “He’s got great, soft hands. His movements, all of the things he does really well, kind of carries over to doubles.”
Much as Smith transitioned within tennis, the lefthander made a modest change in academics at Tech.
He began school thinking of going to medical school, and was fortunate enough to “shadow” a few surgeries with doctors whom he knows, before ultimately choosing to major in biochemistry instead of biomedicine.
“I’ve always been kind of a math and science guy,” Smith said. “I got steered away by the all the additional school that it would have required. I didn’t want to go to four more years of school.”
Indeed, for all the joy Smith found at Tech — he said, “The number one things that stands out, obviously, is when we beat UGA for the first time in 23 years [earlier this spring]. That was a huge moment for me, the whole team, everyone that likes Georgia Tech. That’s by far the number one moment.” – there is a lament.
When he graduated last Sunday, and pumped his fist, you could tell . . .
“I will not miss writing lab reports,” he said. “I had at least one lab class every semester, and lot of semesters I had two. That was one of the toughest things. Every week I’d have a 10-page lab report. By far the number one thing I will not ever miss will be lab reports.”
There may be reports, but no lab reports, when Smith begins training with Dow as an account manager. He said Dow made nine such hires nationally.
He does not yet know where he will be stationed after training is complete, but chances are tennis will go with him.
“I’ll definitely play for fun. My girlfriend . . . has taken up tennis. I’ll play with her,” he said. “If I end up in an area that has leagues, I’ll probably play on a team and have some sort of competitive tennis.”
Mr. Smith’s first priority will be making the gravy.
“He’s smart. He knew where he was going to get his paycheck from, and he put his time in,” Thorne said. “Last year we talked about him really starting to focus on doubles. I think his singles was suffering because he was trying to do everything here and in school. He took off as a doubles player.
“Ryan’s kind of flown under the radar, but he’s absolutely taken care of business.”
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