By Gabriel Stovall
GRIFFIN, Ga. — Over the last four years, people have learned that at 5 p.m. on a football Friday night, it’s best to get out of Ryan Cochran’s way.
That’s when the former Griffin linebacker would flip the switch, so to speak, from being a fairly even keeled, mild mannered guy to, well….let’s let Griffin coach Jarrett Laws say it his way.
“He’s just a pissfire,” Laws said when describing Cochran’s on-field persona. “Always angry. Always ready for the fight. That’s just the kind of kid he is when he’s playing football.”
And Cochran didn’t exactly disagree.
“Yeah, I would have to say that’s pretty accurate,” Cochran said with a grin.
But it’s not always that way.
“I’m pretty calm during field sessions and workouts,” Cochran added. But give him some headphones, pop in a little Gucci Mane, and you’ll see Cochran put on his mental business suit.
“When I’m on the field, I’m in my office,” Cochran said. “It’s my business. It starts when you get on that bus ride to the stadium, or to the away games. I put on my music, get taped up, stretch and then it’s war time.”
That’s “Beast Mode” Ryan Cochran, as he likes to put it. But his other side is a bit more urbane — a tad more genteel.
That’s the side of him that boasts a 3.5 grade point average in the classroom. The side that wants to major in agricultural engineering once he decides on whether he’ll attend college at West Georgia, Methodist University or Georgia Military College.
And then there’s the side that has an inbred soft spot for the Griffin community. Laws calls Cochran “the quintessential Griffin kid.” It makes sense, considering Ryan’s dad Jeff also played for the school in the mid 80s.
“That green and gold runs through my veins, man,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to play for any other school in America than Griffin High School.”
Even after the post-state championship drama that hit the football program after winning the 2013 Class AAAA championship. Many will recall how former Griffin coach Steve DeVoursney resigned after 13 years amid allegations of recruiting violations and academic tampering with football players.
Enter Laws, the program building specialist from Clayton County who helped rebuild a once-proud Mount Zion-Jonesboro football program back into respectability before starting the football team — and entire athletic department — at Riverdale’s Drew High when it opened back in 2009.
The hiring of Laws raised eyebrows and initially brought a mixture of anticipation, anxiety and awkwardness for both coach and Cochran.
“I know a bunch of people aren’t really familiar with change and aren’t okay with it,” Cochran said. “But coming off a state championship and with the catastrophe that happened and having a new coaching staff, at first I didn’t think it was gonna work out and that it was going to be a tough year for us.”
Both Laws and Cochran started to see gradual signs of buy-in for what the new regime was bringing. They just saw it at different times.
Laws pointed to Week Two of the 2014 season — a come-from-behind win against Burke County. But for Cochran, the shift happened much earlier.
“It was in the summer time, and I just started to realize that sometimes change is a good thing,” Cochran said. “So I decided to buy into the program some more and buy in to what Coach Laws had to say and what the coaching staff taught. I knew that if I bought in that a lot of our other guys would do the same.”
Laws knew that too.
“I knew if those two — Ryan and (wide receiver) Christian (Owen) bought into this team then the other ones, they would rally around it,” Laws said. “Ryan and Christian, they stood out to me because they could’ve easily turned the team the other way if they wanted to, but they decided to buy in and it gave us quite a bit of success.”
It also helped foster a new relationship between Cochran and Laws that the Griffin senior says will be something that he takes with him to the collegiate level. Cochran said that even though he’s technically not a member of the football team anymore, he still spends lots of time in Laws’ office watching film, soaking up game knowledge and just getting to know the coach better.
“Man, I love Coach Laws now,” Cochran said. “It’s like he’s known me since I was a freshman even though I only played for him for one year.”
Cochran’s ability to navigate through a difficult program transition — while being an important moment — comes in second, however, to what he calls the highlight of his career at Griffin.
That moment came on December 14, 2013 in the Georgia Dome as Griffin battled Carrollton in the state title game. Cochran’s voice raised and cadence quickened as he recalled the play which was a turning point in Griffin’s championship quest.
As the Bears were trailing Carrollton by a touchdown late in the first half, the Trojans were seemingly on their way to tacking on another score when a Carrollton ball carrier was stripped and Cochran scooped up the fumble and took it to the house for a 95-yard score.
From there, momentum shifted and Griffin went on to a 56-35 win for their first perfect season and state crown.
Cochran believes it may have been the longest fumble recovery for a score in state championship game history. But even if not, he knows it was a history-maker for him, and a moment he’ll never forget.
“I wouldn’t consider myself to be a speedy guy at all, but that was definitely the fastest 100 yards I ever ran in my life. I can tell you that,” Cochran said. “We made history and put myself and the school on the map. That play brought back momentum to the team and we were even more excited to play in the second half of that game.”
And Cochran said he’d take that game and that moment above any other high prize the game of football has to offer.
“I don’t think even winning the Super bowl can top that feeling,” he said. “That’s just the highlight of my career. If I could go back to play that game again one more time, I definitely would.”
Although that moment is gone, Cochran knows he’ll have more to make in college over the next four years. But that doesn’t mean the quintessential Griffin kid will be able to get that green and gold out of his bloodstream easily — if at all.
He’s already got it in mind what he wants to say to those he’s leaving behind before he steps off of the Griffin campus for the last time as a student.
“I would tell all of our underclassmen, the ones who will be seniors and juniors next year, that they need to enjoy every single moment they have being a Griffin Bear,” Cochran said. “The summer workouts that are crazy. The Friday nights that are even crazier. I’d tell them to love it all, and as long as they work hard and listen to the coaches, every single one of them can go far and continue to play the sport they love and make Griffin proud.”
Just like Cochran.
Watch some of Cochran’s best moments on the field here: