New Jersey Ag News
Top Story, Jan. 15, 2017
Suydam reflects on time as rookie DL with Broncos
By RICHARD SKELLY
FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, Somerset County — While most everyone in the Garden State’s agricultural community recognizes Ryck Suydam as the president of their lobbying group in Trenton — the New Jersey Farm Bureau — many people don’t know about Suydam’s past as a professional football player.
Suydam played football for Franklin High School, then attended the University of Maine on a football scholarship, and then played for the Denver Broncos in 1982.
He was let go after one season along with a bunch of other rookies on that team.
“I had a pretty good career here in high school,” he said recently.
It was good enough that he was courted to play college football at places like University of Hawaii, Princeton University and Cornell University.
“I was pretty good but I was concerned about not being able to play right away, so I went to the University of Maine in Orono, part of the Yankee conference,” he said.
“I got a good education there, was able to play football right away and I got attention from a number of pro teams but never got drafted,” he said. “I went as a free agent to the Denver Broncos. If you’re drafted and you don’t go in the first couple of rounds, being a free agent is the next best thing, you can negotiate the best deal with a team that needs you.”
“I ended up going through a lot of wining and dining with various NFL teams,” he recalled, adding all of the memories from that time in his life are pleasant ones.
In the spring of 1982, he was nearing graduation from the University of Maine when he went to Denver to start training with the Broncos.
He was hired by the Denver Broncos to play defensive lineman and was known as a talented long snapper.
“I was a very good long snapper, but unfortunately the Denver Broncos fired every rookie lineman that year. That was before the days of (Hall of Fame quarterback) John Elway,” Suydam said.
“Coach (Dan) Reeves fired me and the others but he did it very graciously,” Suydam said. “It was disappointing, but I had some offers at the United States Football League. But those offers weren’t nearly as lucrative as the NFL.”
He went back to University of Maine, finished his degree and then took a job teaching American history at South Brunswick High School, while also coaching football there.
“I feel it now, and a lot of older players feel it eventually,” he said. “I made some money, met a lot of people and (through a football scholarship) I was able to get my degree.”
And even though NFL money back then was nothing like it is now, Suydam said he felt extremely fortunate to be a 22-year-old making more than $40,000 a year, even though his career barely lasted a season.
Suydam’s father Abe Suydam, went to Rutgers and was a well-known farmer and insurance salesman in central New Jersey, as well as a big supporter of Rutgers football.
When time permits, Ryck said he attends Rutgers University football games throughout the fall.
Otherwise, he listens on the radio while working at the farm.
He is a partner with his sister Robin in the Suydam Insurance Agency and these days, divides his time between growing hay, Christmas trees, seedling vegetable plants and grass-fed pork.
By 1984, “I was teaching and coaching and farming and starving at the same time, so I said, ‘I’m going to learn the other family business,’ and I became a full partner in the family insurance business.”
Since 2012 when he was elected president of the Farm Bureau, however, he said he’s put more of his energy and spare time into Farm Bureau affairs.
Last year, Suydam was also elected to the board of directors at the American Farm Bureau Federation, and serves on its finance committee.
As president of the New Jersey Farm Bureau, he said, he enjoys being able to help facilitate needed legislation for farmers.
“Being involved in the Farm Bureau is my opportunity to express my opinion as to where things really need to go and the farmers of New Jersey elected me, so I’m doing the best I can while they’ll have me.”
Aside from a corporate business tax that passed and allows the Farmland Preservation program to stay alive in New Jersey and concerns that minimum wage laws don’t get out of control, Suydam said another issue Farm Bureau is working on is the budget for New Jersey’s Agricultural Experiment Stations.
“A big effort Farm Bureau is to increase or at least maintain funding to the experiment stations. Most smaller farmers can’t afford a research and development arm, so they lean on the Ag Experiment stations and Rutgers to come up with newer and better tomatoes, Christmas trees, ways of dealing with various insects and other issues.”
During winter months, Suydam and his farm manager Corey Blake and a handful of part-timers sell Christmas trees, pork, sausage and pork chops.
They sell free-range eggs year-round and in spring, sell bedding plants, flowering plants, vegetable plants and then go from spring plants to vegetables.
“Soon we’ll have high-grade, grass-fed, grain-finished beef to offer as well,” he said, “and we sell hay year-round to New Jersey horse farms.”
While Suydam acknowledges hay farming is not an easy way to make money, “hay is our biggest crop and the nice thing about hay is it has a better shelf life than tomatoes.”
Drawing parallels between managing his team at Suydam Farms and pro football, Suydam said farmers, like pro football players and coaches, need to be a resourceful bunch.
“You keep trying. If one thing doesn’t work, you try something else. Farmers need to evolve. Not much different than pro football teams, you look for another way to get the job done. Farmers need to evolve with the marketplace, with individual customers, with technology. You either evolve or you die,” he said, “and in pro football, you evolve or you get beat.”