Success in sports is nothing new to Ryan Hewitt. Starting at fullback for Stanford in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day is just the most recent highlight for the Denver native.
But that success sprouted from a local source. Hewitt's uncle, Jim Miller Jr., played on the first playoff football team for the Newman Comets in 1977, and his late grandfather, Jim Miller Sr., was a standout Comet defensive player back in the early 1930s.
And while Hewitt doesn't remember a lot of football talk on his visits to the family farm in Nelson as a youngster, he's proud to be carrying on a legacy and tradition that goes back nearly four decades.
"Honestly, I don't remember football stories when we'd get back to visit the farm where Mom grew up," Hewitt said. "But it was always cool to go back and see the family, and I have some great memories of my time in Illinois."
Of all the great stories Jim Miller Jr. tells of his family's proud sports history, he believes they might all have been topped 18 days ago.
Having driven to Denver on back-to-back weekends when his nephew was a high-school senior to watch Hewitt's high-school team win the Colorado state semifinals and championship in 2008, Miller didn't have to go nearly as far to see Hewitt play in the Cardinal's first Rose Bowl victory since 1972.
"It was awesome," said Miller, who has been decked out in various Stanford gear quite a bit the last few years. "Seeing him there, on the screen playing in the Grandaddy of Them All … it was unbelievable.
"I guarantee that if he were still around, Dad would have been going nuts, been completely crazy watching his grandson play in the Rose Bowl. He used to throw Blue Ribbons at the TV watching Packers games, and he would've been throwing an awful lot of them seeing Ryan on TV."
The son of Jim Miller Jr.'s sister Mary, Hewitt grew up in Denver, and attended J.K. Mullen High School, the largest Catholic school in Colorado. Making the grade academically is a must to stay eligible at Mullen, and Hewitt loved the challenge both on the field and off.
Hewitt played a lot of different sports growing up – "volleyball, soccer, basketball, baseball, skiing, you name it," he said – but it was football where he, like his uncle and grandfather before him, found his passion.
He played tight end at Mullen, and was immediately intrigued by the idea of playing in Stanford's old-school offensive system – and earning a degree from the prestigious institution.
"Stanford was my first offer, and I saw it initially as the best," Hewitt said. "I thought, 'Where better can there be to go to school athletically and academically than Stanford?' Academics were important to me, and especially important to my mom, and Stanford seemed like a good fit.
"I was never a big Stanford fan, I didn't really know much about the place before I got here, but I'm very happy with my decision."
Don't let his long hair and laid-back nature fool you: Hewitt is as focused and determined as they come on the field and in the classroom.
"He's a good kid who has his head on straight, that's for sure," Hewitt's proud uncle said. "He must flip a switch or something when he gets on the football field; he goes from this easygoing kid to this intense blocker."
Miller remembers a specific play in the Rose Bowl where Hewitt blew up a linebacker while blocking – "Ryan smoked the guy," Miller said gleefully – that shows the family trait of hard hitting has been passed to the next generation.
While Miller and his family enjoyed the Rose Bowl immensely, Hewitt took time to soak it all up as well. The facts of where he was, what he was doing, and how many people were watching, weren't lost on the 21-year-old.
"It was unbelievable, but I definitely wanted to take advantage of the opportunity I was lucky enough to have," Hewitt said. "You watch it on TV as a kid and dream about it, but you never think you'll be out there playing in it. Luckily, I was part of a great team that did play there, and I felt even luckier to be a part of the victory. It was a great end to a great season."
Miller is thrilled to see the sport that he and his father loved so much – a sport that Miller's sister felt was almost too violent for her son – be carried on by the next generation. Hewitt has 1 more year left at Stanford, then it may be on to the NFL; Miller said Hewitt is already being touted as the third-best fullback for the 2014 NFL Draft by the Walter Camp Foundation.
But you wouldn't know that by talking to Hewitt.
"He's a humble kid, and success won't change that," Miller said. "I remember him coming out here during high school, on his way back to Denver from a baseball camp in Cooperstown (N.Y.). I put him out there on the tractor to mow the pasture, this city kid in a straw hat, and he's got this smile from ear to ear.
"That's the kind of person he is, and he's been that way his entire life. He has goals he wants to achieve, and he goes about it the right way – with hard work, great effort and a lot of pride."
Ryan Hewitt file
High school: J.K. Mullen
Sports: Baseball, basketball, football, skiing, soccer, volleyball
College: Stanford, where he starts at fullback on Cardinal football team
FYI: Played in every game the past two seasons at Stanford. … Uncle, Jim Miller Jr., was on first Newman playoff team in 1977. … Grandfather, Jim Miller Sr., played for Comets in early 1930s.