Ten years after the Ryerson family moved to the Adelphi area, they got a next-door neighbor: Ross, who accepted the football coaching job at Maryland in 1982. A shy kid, Joel would occasionally wander next door to say hello. When the Ross family left town, Joel would watch after their dog, Chief. Ross was always friendly with Joel and chatted with him about football, a sport with which Joel had only passing familiarity.
At some point, Ross invited Joel to watch practice. Or maybe Joel invited himself. No one seems to remember perfectly. “He just came one day,” Ross says, “and then we saw him a few days later. And before you know it, he was out there every single day.”
His motivation is simple. “I just want to be there, where the action is,” Joel says.
When Ross left in 1987 and assistant coach, Joe Krivak, was promoted to the job, Joel’s standing with the team was safe. “If you would’ve told Joel you can’t come to practice, it would’ve literally broken his heart,” says Krivak, who coached the Terps from 1987 to ’91. “There was no reason to do that.”
Last year Edsall heard all of this and knew he had only one option. College football practices have become top-secret classified affairs since the days when Joel first wandered onto Ross’s field. Edsall, though, told the gate attendant that Joel had a spot inside.
“You just don’t find many people like that who have that passion for their team,” Edsall says.
‘A source of inspiration’
Joel purchases season tickets each year to Maryland football, and men’s and women’s basketball. To the other sports, he’ll buy a single-game ticket or a generous coach might leave his name on the pass list. If Joel can’t make it to practice or he’s dealing with a scheduling quirk, he calls the athletic offices to alert them.
“I have to tell him, ‘You can’t go to everything,’ ” his mother says. “’You’re going to wear yourself out.’ But he feels so obligated to be there. He thinks they depend on him.”
Joel finds every team’s schedule on the Internet and plugs it all into his phone. And then he studies and organizes and plans, still wishing he could somehow attend every sporting event. “It’s impossible,” he concedes. “I just do what I can do.”
In time, he’s become a part of Maryland’s routines, too. From the highest-paid coaches to low-level employees, nearly everyone has given Joel a ride over the years.