Even as a kid growing up 15 minutes east of Cleveland in Westlake, Ohio, Ryan Baer didn’t root for the Browns. The decision came in part because his Pennsylvania-native grandparents instilled in him their own Steelers pride, but also because, as he said, the Browns always sucked.
The Baers grew up watching Steelers games on television, hosting a Super Bowl party for the Steelers-Packers game in 2011, which provided Baer with one of his first heartbreaks, and now that he’s sharing the same facility with his hometown teams, it’s almost surreal.
“It’s going to take me a little bit because right now I’m still in fanboy mode, it gets bad,” Baer said Wednesday at Pitt’s South Side facility. “Like, my first day here, we came to the facility and I was walking in and Mike Tomlin was walking past and he gave me a fist bump. It was a kinda crazy experience, I was definitely fanboying a little bit.”
Baer, a 6-foot-7, 300-pound four-star early enrollee offensive tackle from Pitt’s 2022 class, is already making strides during Pitt’s early-season workouts and training, but he almost didn’t wind up in Pittsburgh.
“At first, it was like, Pitt’s an alright contender, but the more I talked to (offensive line coach Dave) Borbely, the higher they started to rise,” Baer said.
A highly sought-after four-star recruit from North High School in Westlake, Baer made official visits to Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan State and Illinois, and his visit to Pitt — an unofficial visit — came as a last-second decision that changed his life.
“I put Pitt in as an unofficial visit just kind of as a last-second decision, I really didn’t even want to visit here, and when I visited, I realized it was one of the best decisions I ever made,” Baer said.
While Baer found a “real” guy in Borbely, someone he could talk about life with as opposed to just hammering home football and pressuring him to commit, the overall recruiting process was something that he really didn’t enjoy.
“I hated it. I did not like being recruited, I did not like being on visits. Over when the first COVID hit, I took three visits to games and after that, everything was shut down and I couldn’t go anywhere. I almost committed to a school just because I didn’t want to go through it anymore.”
He sat down his high school head coach, cleared his head and just planned his recruiting visits during the window over the summer in June. Baer wanted to be committed by the end of the summer in order to fully commit to his senior season at North, and in adding Pitt to his visit list, he stumbled upon the place where he fell in love.
On Baer’s visit, he got to spend a lot of time with Owen Drexel and Branson Taylor, being shown around Pittsburgh and Pitt’s facilities by the veteran offensive linemen, and he kept in touch with them after the visit. And now that he’s finally enrolled at Pitt, he’s seen the bonds he built with Pitt’s offensive linemen were legit.
“They act the same as they did on my visit,” Baer said. “They didn’t try to fake it, that’s what I’m realizing now is it wasn’t like a fake, trying to get this recruit here act. They showed what they’re really like. I loved them when I was on my visit and they’re even better now.”
The entire starting offensive line from 2021 is returning for one last season, and while some recruit might resent having to sit behind the older guys for an additional year, Baer is happy about it.
“A lot of recruits would probably be upset with the whole starting offensive line coming back and a lot of people want to come in and play right away, but I was excited,” Baer said. “Because when I came on my visit here, those guys were kind of one of the biggest motivators in me wanting to come here.”
In getting to spend a year learning under Pitt’s offensive line, Baer will be able to continue to study and develop under current left tackle Carter Warren — the future position Baer will play at Pitt, narrowing down his two years at guard and two more at tackle in high school into a left tackle designation.
In learning under Borbely and guys like Warren and Drexel, Baer is already learning and growing in Pitt’s system.
“I got to talk to him a little bit,” Baer said. “They’re a bunch of great dudes, especially someone like Carter, obviously he has big potential right now as a left tackle and obviously being able to learn from him and understudy for him – even today, we had a little workout and he was helping me after every rep, just making sure I got the little things right.”
While it may take some time for Baer to step in as Pitt’s starting left tackle, he’s excited about the opportunity. And instead of experiencing Pitt’s home games as a spectator at Heinz Field now, he’ll be dressed and on the sideline with his new teammates. But he’ll still be able to sing along as “Sweet Caroline” blasts from the loud speakers in the fourth quarter.