Ryan Kerrigan arrived in Washington four years ago with the money and security befitting a first-round NFL draft pick. Then he looked at Northern Virginia housing prices.
“And I’m like, ‘holy crap,’ ” he recently recalled.
So Kerrigan — still not knowing exactly how his NFL career would progress — crafted his own housing plan. He would sample a few modest options. He would rent, not buy. And he would get to know the area before making any long-term decisions. There was an apartment in Ashburn, then a townhouse in Leesburg. There was another apartment in Leesburg, and then an apartment in Reston, further east than Redskins players typically live.
Which is why Kerrigan — arguably the team’s best and most popular defensive player, and now the owner of a massive new contract — currently lives in a two-bedroom apartment, with a roommate, in Reston Town Center.
“You’ve got Chipotle and Potbelly in there,” he pointed out. “I mean, I don’t know what else you’d need.”
Kerrigan is something of a star now, the rare Redskins player — along with tackle Trent Williams — whose name does not set off a contentious debate among fans and sports-radio hosts. He’s been to a Pro Bowl, has steadily increased his annual output (recording 13 1/2 sacks last season), and has seen his off-field profile rise, with local commercial spots and even a cameo in “Sharknado 3.”
But this was a player who figured his time at Purdue would mark the end of his football career, who apologizes for sounding conceited when he admits that he now gets recognized around town.
So it probably shouldn’t be surprising that a Super Nintendo still occupies a place of prominence in the apartment Kerrigan shares with Redskins.com managing editor Andrew Walker, a childhood friend. (“Ken Griffey, Jr. Presents Major League Baseball” remains their go-to game.) That the living room’s 46-inch TV hasn’t been replaced since Kerrigan’s rookie season. That he has made one major purchase as a professional — a Chevy Tahoe his rookie year — and that during a weekend getaway to glamorous Boone, N.C., friends recently told Kerrigan that he really ought to travel more widely, or do something.
“I don’t really know how to live it up more,” he admitted. “Does that mean buy a boat?”
Some of this may be about to change. Kerrigan and the Redskins reached a long-term deal on Wednesday, according to the team. And with the offseason departures of several defensive veterans, Kerrigan’s status as the defense’s premier player may demand a more prominent leadership role.
He attended Redskins offseason workouts this spring, even when he couldn’t practice because of arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, and other linebackers said he helped as much as he could from the sideline. (The linebacker said he feels ready to start training camp as a full participant.) But Kerrigan said even now, he doesn’t want to force himself to become more vocal, doesn’t want to “talk just to talk.” And teammates explained that doesn’t really matter.
“As an older guy, he’s somebody that I’ve looked up to since he’s been here,” said Kedric Golston, the team’s longest-tenured player. “Ryan’s always been a leader here, even when he was younger, in the sense that he always was a professional: the way he went about his business, the way he took care of his body, the way he worked.”
“He’s like the big brother I never had out there,” added second-year linebacker Trent Murphy. “He’s not saying anything, but his actions are screaming at everyone. I would say he’s earned everyone’s utmost respect from that standpoint.”
That Kerrigan would reach a deal with the Redskins came as no surprise, since few players on the team have been as public about embracing the community. He became the host of the annual Leukemia & Lymphoma Society golf tournament this year, a role often reserved for quarterbacks such as Jason Campbell and Mark Brunell. He’s a frequent visitor at other Washington sporting events, saying that “the Verizon Center’s a second home to me in the winter time.” He’s familiar with a host of every-day nightspots across the region, from Tony & Joe’s in D.C. to Whitlow’s in Arlington to Caddies in Bethesda. (“Good old Caddies,” he said with a smile.) On Monday — two days before his deal was finalized — he finally exchanged his Indiana driver’s license for one from Virginia.
“People have kind of embraced me as their own in Washington, and that feels pretty good,” he said. “One of my goals in getting drafted here was to become not just a player on the team but a member of the community. That’s why I’m always going and supporting local teams, and just being out in public. I want to be able to get the full experience while I’m here, because who knows how long it’ll last?”
It figures to last a while longer now, and in truth, that’s something Kerrigan has thought about for years. He noticed how beloved Redskins alumni like Darrell Green and Jeff Bostic were still embraced in the region, and how former teammate Chris Cooley — who similarly embraced the area — seamlessly transitioned into a post-football career here.
“They still have a presence and still are ingrained in the community,” Kerrigan said. “I feel like I’ve become a member of the community here, and I want to be a member of the community here.”
Kerrigan even invested in his first golf membership during the offseason, joining The Golf Club at Lansdowne, a place popular with current and former Redskins. But a golf club isn’t necessarily the most comfortable ground for Kerrigan, who rarely ventures to Barcelona’s newest outpost in Reston — “it’s a little fancy for me,” he explained, when asked about the tapas spot — and fretted on Monday that he still had to do his laundry before packing for Richmond. Asked about a cleaning service, he and Walker, his roommate, just laughed.
“Every couple weeks we just break out the rags and the soap and the water and the Windex, and we get it taken care of ourselves,” Walker said. “He’s seriously the exact same guy as he was in sixth grade. We still laugh at the exact same jokes, we still tell the same jokes. He really hasn’t changed a bit as far as how he goes about his business, how he treats people. That’s been really cool to see.”
Kerrigan hasn’t changed how he cares for his body, either. He still won’t drink alcohol during the season, a habit he started at Purdue. (“With the amount of snaps I was playing then — and I’m playing now — I need every ounce of energy I can get, and 25-cent PBRs aren’t gonna help with that,” he explained.) He still cooks virtually all his own meals, focusing on “very bland food,” although he boasted that he recently added avocado to his repertoire; “that’s been a revelation to me,” he said.
He lifts weights religiously — he went to a local gym Monday, since Redskins Park’s equipment was already being packed up — and started measuring his calories this offseason. He wound up settling on about 850-calorie meals, consumed six times a day. Smoothies made with kale, carrots, avocados, walnuts, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries became a particular favorite. And even veterans have paid attention to his routine.
“You can show the younger guys, this is what it’s going to take to be successful in this league, by the example that he sets,” Golston said. “He’s a guy that will play as long as he wants to play, and when I say that, I’m talking about 15, 16, 17 years, barring some catastrophic injury. I mean, every day — no matter if it’s the first day of the offseason or the last day of a 4-12 year — he’s doing all the little things the right way.”
Kerrigan said he wants to be looked at not just as consistent, a popular adjective, but as “consistently really good,” someone who is “an impact player each game.” And with his new contract –a reported five-year, $57.5 million deal — Kerrigan also seems set to become one of the faces of the franchise.
“He’s been one of the faces of the team,” tight end Niles Paul argued. “When you think of the Redskins, you think of Ryan Kerrigan. You may [also] think of Robert Griffin or DeSean Jackson, but you think of Ryan Kerrigan.”
Kerrigan almost blushes when asked about titles like that, the same way he reacts when asked about his brief offseason relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki and the attention that brought. (“I mean, that was something else,” he said. “It just was weird to me how many people were interested.”)
Why does he still seem so surprised by the interest? Because Kerrigan didn’t come to Washington to be a celebrity, or a marquee name, to earn a mansion or a fleet of cars.
“That was never my goal, to be the face of the franchise,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be a positive representative of the franchise: that when people think of me, they think of the Washington Redskins, and they think of that in a good light. That’s something that’s been a focus of mine since the day I’ve gotten here. And fortunately it’s been able to work out like that. And I guess it’s my responsibility just to make sure that continues.”