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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Jersey boy: Is TE Mike Ragone happy? C’mon, bro

Kansas tight end Mike Ragone heads up the sideline after pulling in a second-quarter catch on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas tight end Mike Ragone heads up the sideline after pulling in a second-quarter catch on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012 at Memorial Stadium.

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Kansas tight end Mike Ragone heads up the sideline after pulling in a second-quarter catch on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012 at Memorial Stadium.

The early results have been disappointing and his own statistics — two receptions, 11 yards, a touchdown — hard to come by, but Kansas University tight end Mike Ragone is thrilled to be here.

Ragone, the senior who transferred from Notre Dame, came to Kansas to be reunited with KU coach Charlie Weis. He also came to go to battle with his former quarterback, win games and knock heads. He got much more than he anticipated.

“I almost don’t want to say this,” Ragone said during a recent interview, “but I’m almost glad I hurt my knee so I could be here.”

Ragone suffered three major knee injuries during a seven-year span. The setbacks, though difficult, allowed him to apply for a medical red shirt and a sixth year of eligibility. He never believed that would lead him to Lawrence, but, with a disappointing 1-3 record and his first taste of the KU-K-State rivalry just around the corner, the 6-foot-4, 255-pound bruiser can’t keep himself from expressing how thankful he is for all of it.

“I love it here,” he said with his loud-and-proud New Jersey accent. “It’s awesome. I’m very, very happy and blessed. I really truly love everyone on this team. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s a brotherhood.”

While Ragone’s personality has made him a hit with his teammates, it also has made him an automatic request by the local media. Sure, there are things reporters can learn from Ragone about the KU offense or the Jayhawks’ next opponent, but, more often, Ragone’s media sessions become spirited conversations about video games, pro wrestling, food and, of course, Jersey.

“C’mon, bro,” is one of Ragone’s favorite phrases, but he says it in a way that’s completely non-threatening and almost endearing. Most of the time it comes out when Ragone thinks someone is busting his chops, like the time prior to KU’s first road game when Ragone was asked if he had a suit to wear for the trip.

“Come on, bro,” he said. “I wear suits to class.”

Then there was the time when, because of his hometown’s proximity to Philadelphia, he was asked if he liked cheese steaks.

“C’mon, bro,” he said.

True foodie

Ragone does not discriminate when it comes to food, and has found Lawrence to have plenty of suitable options.

“23rd Street Brewery’s pretty good,” he said. “I want to go to Basil Leaf. My dad went there. He said it was very good.”

By first paying homage to West Coast Saloon’s Woo burger, Ragone continued: “I love Jefferson’s. I’m a big Johnny’s Tavern guy — the food place, not the bar. The pizza’s good there. Their burgers? Slim Wilson. Huge, man.”

On Sept. 18, Ragone turned 24, “old” by his calculations. He didn’t do much to celebrate.

“Get some food, some treatment, watch film,” he said. “It’s another day.”

But his roommate and former Notre Dame teammate Anthony McDonald made sure it was more. Knowing Ragone was a huge fan of video games, McDonald scored one of Ragone’s favorite games, “Sunset Riders,” for one of the seven gaming systems they have in their apartment.

“When I gave it to him, he was just like, ‘Oh, man, best present ever,’” McDonald said.

Asked what it was like to live with Ragone after rooming with a traditional student at Notre Dame, McDonald gathered himself and said, “It’s a lot different going from a regular student to Mike Ragone, the Jersey boy who’s in your face about everything and doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him. But he’s my boy. I’d do anything for Mike.”

‘… such a great town’

Like Ragone, McDonald has come to love Lawrence, a city he called the perfect place to end a college career.

“The thing that makes us keep believing this is such a great town is the people here have so much pride, regardless of how we’re doing,” McDonald said. “They just love the Jayhawks.”

So do a handful of Ragone’s friends and family from back home in Blackwood, New Jersey, several of whom made the trip to Lawrence for the season opener. Included among them was a man named Bob Yackle, Ragone’s youth football coach who was blown away when, during his layover in Chicago, a KU fan informed him that Ragone was one of the best interviews on the team.

“The funny thing about Mike is he was very, very quiet,” Yackle said with nearly the same accent as Ragone. “Never said nothing to nobody. He was ‘Yes. No. Maybe.’”

Yackle and Ragone have stayed in close touch throughout the years. Trips to the local steakhouse are a regular thing. Yackle even made the trip to Notre Dame for Ragone’s 21st birthday. Three years later, he sees a much different Ragone than he knew in the past.

“When he was at Notre Dame, I think he was more stressed,” Yackle said. “He’s more comfortable, more relaxed now. I remember saying to him, ‘You just gotta go back to having fun with football.’ I think he’s done that.”

The Ragone zone

Ragone’s popularity has not been limited to the people who know him or the media. There’s a group of tailgaters who have a regular hangout halfway up the hill who have adopted Ragone as their favorite player. Yackle bumped into the group by coincidence. That, too, blew his mind.

“Lemme put it this way,” Yackle said in his wise-guy way. “When I got invited to a Mike Ragone party down in Kansas, I was like, ‘This ain’t happenin’ in Jersey.’”

Although Ragone has fallen in love with Lawrence, his mind still races at times. When he had nights like that back in South Bend, Ind., he went down to Notre Dame’s famed Grotto, the stone shrine known for its tranquility.

“I like being alone for a sec to catch my breath,” he said. “You know, you just need that 5-10 minutes to be by yourself, a clear-your-mind type of thing.”

His new escape is not as picturesque as The Grotto, but Ragone said it’s just as soothing.

“I like to walk around, relax, listen to music,” he said. “Wescoe Beach … I walk down there all the time. It’s beautiful here. I love it. It’s so peaceful.”

‘Jersey Savage’

Don’t confuse those quiet moments for a soft side. Ragone’s tough, the kind of guy who could transform into a WWE wrestler without much effort.

“That’d be cool,” Ragone said in all seriousness. “What would my name be? Italian Stallion or something? It would be cool to have one of those little dolls. That’d be sweet. I would definitely buy one. I know you guys would, too.”

In the next breath, just moments after a reporter suggested that Ragone’s wrestling name should be The Jersey Savage, Ragone first said, “I like that. It’s mine,” but then added that he did not see himself getting away from football. It’s why he came to KU. But it’s just one of the reasons he loves being here.

“Time goes by fast,” he said. “I’m 24 now. My body hurts. I can’t eat McDonald’s any more. But I really want this to last. I want to be 35 and be on one knee with these guys, listening to coach talk. I love it. ... What else you guys want to talk about?”

Comments

John Mueller 2 years, 2 months ago

Great story. This is what college football is all about.

C'mon bro. Go beat K-State!!!

Michael Pannacciulli 2 years, 2 months ago

Is he getting the looks? I mean why is he not catching every other pass?

Michael Pannacciulli 2 years, 2 months ago

As a Jersey KU alum...I personally love hearing his take on Larrytown. Good stuff. Now get him the ball.

jhox 2 years, 2 months ago

Lawrence is a better college town than South Bend. Unfortunately, the football stadium and football tradition don't compare. On the other hand, they don't have Allen Field House.

I went to the KU - ND game, in South Bend, a number of years ago and I have to admit it was the best I've ever been treated as a fan of the visiting team. I spent my whole life hating ND, and then after being treated so well, I couldn't hate them any more.

clevelandjayhawker 2 years, 2 months ago

I miss the food in Lawrence. It was rare occasion for me to spend more than $6 on a meal when I was going to school, but when I "splurged" on a $10 meal or so man were there some great options. Beer seemed to be where most of my funds went. Love the atmosphere of Lawrence.

Matt Kenton 2 years, 2 months ago

I am shocked that in a Charlie Weis, supposedly NFL-style offense, the TEs are not more of a target. I think that may have something to do with the person throwing the ball. Or maybe the fact that in short yardage situations, we go to our run game or dump off passes to RBs, again a possible testament to the QB. The only other TE with catches on the season is Mundine with 4.

WRs have a combined 43 catches, RBs have 14, and TEs 6.

Chayse Patrick 2 years, 2 months ago

You are shocked??? OMG he didn't make it at ND with top 10 recruiting classes so why does everyone think he'll do it here?? OH YEA I forgot "we're turning the corner"!!!! What a joke. He could have Dwayne Bowe out there and Jamal Charles and crist wouldn't get the ball to them. This is PATHETIC. I'm a KU alum and a KU fan for 55 years and this is the worst. At least with Terry Allen or Fambrough or Valesente or Mangino KU had 4 maybe 5 wins a year with absolute nobodies. SO we got all of Weis' followers and can't even beat Rice. And Rice is 1-4.

railer20 2 years, 2 months ago

Need a tissue? 55 yrs old and still cry like a 10 yr old girl.

Chayse Patrick 2 years, 2 months ago

That'w what wrong with all you young punks!! You all think $$$ can buy anything and make your way through life without an effort. Look at Snyder you know he probably don't have the greatest staff and EVERYBODY knows his players are definitely not top recruits but Snyder gets every single ounce of energy, potential and talent not only from his players but his coaches as well. It's called being relentless at all costs now matter what it takes.

Kenneth Hillman 2 years, 2 months ago

Terry Allen? Really?? Your take just lost all credibility

Dirk Medema 2 years, 2 months ago

Terry Allen had 1 W his first year, and Magino had 2.

Your memory is failing you.

Chayse Patrick 2 years, 2 months ago

Hey 2 is twice as many as Weis will have and Mangino wasn't a highly decorated ex-nfl coach that everyone thought could walk on water. And Terry Allen wasn't paid over 2 million a year was he?? The only player Mangino had anywhere close to a 3-4 star qb was Reesing. crist is 'spose to be a 5 star can't even get out of his own way!!!

Ryan Shelton 2 years, 2 months ago

You dare to put Fambrough in the same category as Allen or Valesente? By the way, nice rant. Lay off the coffee.

texashawk10 2 years, 2 months ago

Valesente won 4 games total as KU's coach and he was here for more than a year.

Andy Tweedy 2 years, 2 months ago

I liked this story as much as the next guy, but I'm surprised there was no indication of what he actually does plan to do next. Since the NFL probably isn't happening for most of these guys (the transfers), I wonder if they are serious about a post-grad degree or if they move into coaching or something like that.

Fototherapist 2 years, 2 months ago

I had always heard that Ragone was more of a blocking TE anyways, so his offensive production doesn't really surprise me. However, it would be nice to see more of a balanced attack to keep the defense on their toes. I agree that this situation is probably more related to the performance of our QB.

Dirk Medema 2 years, 2 months ago

At NIU, Ragone and Mundine were both wide open on the same crossing route just beyond the LOS. Both throws were behind and uncatchable. Mike looked back at Dayne with a less than congenial "Come on bro". It would have been worth 10 and a first down.

Tony Bandle 2 years, 2 months ago

Isn't "Ragone" an Italian pasta dish with meatballs and mushrooms???

KGphoto 2 years, 2 months ago

This guy belongs in Lawrence. If he doesn't squeeze onto an NFL roster, save him a spot as a graduate assistant.

Jason Keller 2 years, 2 months ago

Dude, excellent point! We need him on the staff. He played at Notre Dame and grew up on the east coast. Recruiting....

55jayhawk 2 years, 2 months ago

Regarding Stanelys' comment and others in general, I have been critical of this team for not winning more games we should have won. However, in watching them, they just need to dig down deeper and find a way to win a couple of games under a new regime. It will be hard from here on out but they can do it once they know inside they can win. Once they make that two win combo a lot of things will be much better. I am not ready to dump the coach or team at this point because it will take time to make the change but as a former player in the good times, I can see a difference from the past 4-5 years.........they will turn it around, keep the faith.

CO_Hawk 2 years, 2 months ago

Wescoe Beach is beautiful and peaceful??

jhawkrulz 2 years, 2 months ago

When did the purple headed step child become a rival?

2005grad 2 years, 2 months ago

When Missouri left our conference and everyone realized the college across the state went 13-1 against us in all sports last year.

Jason Keller 2 years, 2 months ago

Hahaha, this guy is gold! Mike sounds like an awesome guy and its good to hear that he enjoys Lawrence so much. You have to wonder what people from so far away think when they come to this town.

offline 2 years, 2 months ago

Week ahead: K-State 24-point favorites over KU. It could be 124 easy.

Dan Harris 2 years, 2 months ago

WHY ARE YOU SCREAMING ALL THE TIME!!!!!

pbouldenv 2 years, 2 months ago

Glad to have you at KU, Mike! Beat K-State!

Micky Baker 2 years, 2 months ago

Well, we'll see on Saturday, but here is what I expect. K-State is going to win, but they're not going to be ahead by 50 at half time. I expect maybe a two possession game at the end of the 3rd quarter, and if that is the case then at least we'll have a chance to win.

If KU can move the ball like they did against TCU and find the endzone a couple of times in the first half, then it could be possible as long as K-State is limited to 21 to 24 points in the first half, and I think that we can do that. It could be a 24-17 or 21-14 game at the half.

The thing that we have to be good at is stopping the run in this game and force K-State into some 3rd and longs and get pressure on the QB and get some sacks or some batted down balls. If KU is in this game going into the 4th quarter, there is no pressure on KU. They can play loose and take some chances when they have to, and the difference between making a play and not making one is being in the right position.

We're better at tackling this year and we have some better speed at the Linebacker spot and K-State isn't all that fast in the backfield, but they block very well. Our guys are going to have to shed some blocks at the point of attack, and maybe even throw K-State off by a shift on the defensive line to throw off their blocking schemes so they can't seal off the entire side of the line.

This is hard to prepare for, but it's just a matter of showing something, then shifting into another look after they change the play to lure them into some plays for losses. This is a whole new system, so who knows if they have this in their game plan, but particularly on first and second down, it could work and it would make K-State one dimensional on 3rd down in something they don't do as well as run, and that's pass.

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