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Ryan Poles thankful for Boston College roots
Story by Gabby Hajduk

As Ryan Poles walked through Boston College's football facility ahead of the Bears' Oct. 24 game against the New England Patriots, he was hit with a slew of memories. While the Yawkey Center, which was built during Poles' junior year at BC, didn't necessarily look the same 17 years later, it still held remembrances of formative moments in his life.

Poles walked through the since-renovated locker room and visualized the creation of friendships he still holds today. He thought of living in university housing with former teammates like Colts quarterback Matt Ryan and Bears co-director of player personnel Trey Koziol, remembering all the highs and lows they shared.

Then Poles headed up to the second floor, where he encountered his first office from when he worked as a graduate assistant in 2008. The office wasn't glamorous as four people crammed into the tiny space, but Poles couldn't help but smile when he saw it.

While Poles felt gratitude for how far he's come, he also remembered the tools he learned in Chestnut Hill which laid the foundation for his rise to an NFL general manager. One of Poles' main tasks was stapling hundreds of packets together for recruiting. At the time, printers didn't automatically staple, leading to hours of tedious work.

Admittedly, Poles didn't put much focus into the task. He put staples all over the place. Most weren't parallel to the top, some were bent and others didn't even make it through the whole packet. Then one day, he walked into the office and found his packets -- with the messy staples circled -- hanging on the walls, along with a simple message from his supervisor: 'WTF.'

"It was one of those moments I still remember today," Poles said. "And I still talk to our scouting assistants that are young, it's like you've got to take pride in your work regardless of how small the task is. You've got to be detailed. You gotta do it the right way. Because at the end of the day that represents you. So those things and just being in that office and going through those little experiences were things I hold on to."

Attention to detail is just one of the many valuable lessons Poles took away from his time at Boston College and used to climb the NFL ranks. Another, which he picked up during his playing days, is separating himself through work ethic and time on task.

When Poles arrived on campus in 2005, the Eagles hadn't recorded a double-digit win season since 1984 when the team went 10-2. As a freshman, Poles was a part of Boston College's first season in the ACC after leaving the Big East, when they were ranked as high as No. 13 in the AP Poll, finishing with a 9-3 record.

In 2006, the Eagles reached 10 wins, then a season later they won 11 games and were ranked No. 2 in the country at one point, the program's highest rank in the AP Poll since 1942 when they reached No. 1.

Poles said his class and the ones surrounding it had "a chip on our shoulder" to change the trajectory of the program and "help put Boston College on the map."

Now when Poles sees the improved Yawkeye Center along with the new Fish Field House, a $52.6 million indoor facility, he feels a sense of fulfillment knowing his team helped make those advancements possible.

"The work ethic that we had to put into it, because we weren't as talented, and we didn't have all the five-star recruits," Poles said, "but we knew we could bring the toughness, we could bring the intelligence, whatever we could control we can bring that to the table and elevate that university and I felt like we did a really good job doing that. So, I take a lot of pride in what the facilities and what things you had there, the resources that you had from the time that I arrived and recruited at, to the time where I walk in there today and see it's taking that next step."

Following his graduation from Boston College in 2008, Poles opted to pursue a professional playing career and signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent. But after going through training camp in Bourbonnais, Poles was released during 53-man roster cuts. 

While Poles trained with the Bears, his former teammate and close friend, Trey Koziol, put his playing career behind him and earned his first job as Boston College's graduate assistant. Then in September of 2008, the Tennessee Titans offered Koziol a scouting internship and heading to the NFL was a no-brainer, but it meant leaving the Eagles without a GA mid-season. 

When Koziol's supervisors asked him to help find someone to fill the position, his first thought was Poles. Meanwhile, Poles was preparing to take a marketing job up in Vermont and leave his football career behind for the time being, but a phone call from Koziol altered that plan.

"I figured it would be worth calling him because I know he loves ball, and I know that he comes from a football family," Koziol said. "So I just figured I said, 'Hey, you know, if you're interested, I'm leaving to go to Tennessee, there's a position available here. Is that something you'd be interested in?' I just knew that a chance to stay in football and have an opportunity to get a grad assistant position back at BC, when you're 22, that's a good opportunity for you to stay in the game. I just figured I'd ask; I didn't have anything to lose by asking. He called me back the next day and he said, 'Yeah, I'd be interested.'"

Koziol believes Poles did him a favor by taking the job and not allowing his departure to have a negative effect on the football program. From Poles' point of view, Koziol inspired him to take his passion and knowledge of football and turn it into a career.

Having experience with the GA job at Boston College, Koziol knew Poles had everything it took to succeed at the position, and it started with his ability to "stay calm when he's getting pulled in a million different directions." Koziol, a former tight end, first noticed that trait when the pair shared a field as teammate, then again when they shared a living space.

"I mean as an offensive lineman, that's what you look for," Koziol said. "You can't get too up or down, you have to be very cerebral in your play, and very technique oriented. And I think that was always the case with him. But I always remember in the room because we were living with sometimes four guys, sometimes six guys, sometimes eight guys, where people would be running around or yelling at each other, doing all this stuff, and you just see Poles taking it in and never really getting too rattled.

"I've been trying to get under his skin for the last 20 years and it's hard to do. I think you see it with him as a father, husband, as well as a boss and teammate. That's something that you really appreciate, you're always gonna get that calming demeanor."

Poles, 37, is now the second-youngest general manager in the NFL. When he reflects on his career path, he realizes how much growth has occurred since taking the grad assistant job, which he calls "an unknown split in the road point in my life."

But Poles quickly grew passionate about scouting while at Boston College, becoming intrigued by the idea of shaping a roster and evaluating talent. He remembers NFL scouts coming in and inquiring about defensive tackle B.J. Raji, who the Packers ended up selecting as the ninth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. 

"I was seeing it from the ground floor where these NFL scouts were coming in trying to figure out the makeup," Poles said. "They're trying to figure out the talent level and how much value that they could bring to the organization. And that's really what started nudging me into the scouting part of things where I started reaching out to different teams and saying, 'hey, I really would like to get in as an intern or a scouting assistant, and I'll do whatever it takes for whatever you guys pay.' Then I had a bunch of interviews with different teams, ended up in Kansas City and everything kind of spun off from there."

It took just one season for Poles to jump from college to the NFL, as he became the Chiefs' Player Personnel Assistant in 2009. From there, Poles continuously climbed the latter in Kansas City, serving as College Scouting Administrator (2010-12), College Scouting Coordinator (2013-16), Director of College Scouting (2017), Assistant Director of Player Personnel (2018-20) and Executive Director of Player Personnel (2021). 

Through every step of Poles' journey, there's likely not another person - aside from family – who's had a better front row seat than Koziol. The pair have spent the last nine years together as Poles hired Koziol as a Chiefs' area scout in 2013 then brought him onboard to Chicago in May. 

Poles' longstanding relationship with Koziol is just one of many from his years at Boston College, whether as a student-athlete or graduate assistant. And among everything Poles gained from his alma mater, the network of people with constant support holds the top spot.  

"I think the amount of support that you get from that university, it's incredible," Poles said. "You've got a lot of people at your back that are willing to do whatever it takes. If that's being someone like a reference for a job interview, to actually getting a job and them calling and showing their support. If you ever need anything, they're just a phone call away. So the network of the staff, your friends, your teammates, it runs pretty deep and it's really cool. And I think knowing that you have that type of support goes a long way."

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