Sunday Chat with former Toledo QB Ryan Huzjak

Jul 23, 2023 7:30 AM6-7 minutes 7/23/2023
Gary Pinkel needed a quarterback in his first recruiting class, and he knew just the right person.
Ryan Huzjak was an accomplished quarterback at Northville High School in suburban Detroit. He had the pick of the Mid-American Conference, and even some larger schools, eventually settling on Toledo.
The three-year starter was a second-team All-MAC selection in 1995 and 1996, leading the Rockets to their most recent undefeated season (11-0-1 in 1995). Huzjak still ranks fifth in program history with 6,926 passing yards, fourth with 52 career passing touchdowns, fourth with 1,067 career pass attempts, and fifth with 600 career completions.
Huzjak, a Varsity T Hall of Famer and member of the Toledo football all-century team, was a senior captain in 1996. He coached quarterbacks at Northern Iowa for two years before moving into the business side of sports, first with the Chicago White Sox, then the Bulls, then the Bears.
Since 2013, Huzjak been a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers front office, where he’s the vice president of sales and marketing.
The Blade recently caught up with Huzjak, 49, to discuss his time at Toledo and his work in the NFL.
The Blade: The 1995 season was a very memorable one. Going into the year, were their ambitions to be as good as you were? I’m sure the MAC championship was a goal — it typically is. But an undefeated season, were there any murmurs about that?
Huzjak: The previous year we had a really good offense, one of if not the best offense in the league. Myself and [running back] Wasean Tait and most of the offensive line were coming back. We were very optimistic about what we could do on the offensive side of the ball. We changed defensive schemes, went to a 4-4, and we really felt it took advantage of our players. We felt like we were on the cusp of being a really good team if we played good defense, and we did. We started to get a lot of turnovers and played well defensively early in the season. We had a tough early schedule, at Nevada and at Cincinnati. Once we won those two games on the road, we felt like we were going to be a pretty good team.
The Blade: You actually had three straight road games -— at Western Michigan, at Nevada, at Cincinnati. That is quite a gauntlet. Winning those three games, did that propel you or at least instill the belief among the players that you were really good?
Huzjak: At that time, Nevada hadn’t lost at home [since 1993]. It was a very tough environment. We knew it was tough. We were a heavy underdog in that game. Cincinnati had one of the best defenses we faced all season. To come out of those games and play the way we did, our defense turned those teams over a number of times. We felt like we could win every game at that point.
The Blade: You played Nevada again in the Las Vegas Bowl. First overtime game in Division I. How much was having an unbeaten season a rallying cry?
Huzjak: Our goal was to win the MAC championship. But we wanted to finish the job. We felt like we were a great team. We wanted to be nationally ranked. None of us wanted to end that season with a loss, bowl game or otherwise. I don’t know that we felt a lot of pressure, but we felt winning was critical. We knew we were going to be on national TV and it was an opportunity to show who we were. We wanted to show people we were a great team. We needed to win that game to accomplish all of those things.
The Blade: You’ve had an interesting series of jobs. I assume that once your career ended, you wanted to work in sports?
Huzjak: While I was at Toledo, I did an internship with the Mud Hens. At that time, sports management and sports marketing wasn’t like it is now. There weren’t designed career tracks. I had an inclination that I wanted to stay involved. I certainly loved sports, being part of teams, and I’m passionate about it. But I didn’t have a plan. The Mud Hens internship gave me some nice exposure to the business side of professional sports. I took a job with the White Sox in the winter of ’99 and never looked back.
The Blade: In your current position, what are your responsibilities for the Steelers?
Huzjak: I oversee all of our revenue and marketing and content units at the Steelers. We’ve gone through a lot of growth and development in the last decade or so. I’m passionate about the intersection of business and sports, and that’s what I’m able to do -- all of our revenue-generating business units, such as sponsorships, tickets, suites, and all of the marketing units, all of our content platforms, and business analytics.
Huzjak: [laughs] Abolsutely. I always love seeing Rockets have success in the NFL. Diontae is off to a great start in his career. I’ve enjoyed spending a little bit of time with him and watching him grow. I’m really proud when we introduce him and he gets to say he’s from Toledo. I love to follow all the guys and see the program grow. I stay in touch with coach [Jason] Candle and my previous coaches, as well. I have a great sense of pride and connectivity with the program.
The Blade: How big of an honor and career achievement was being inducted into the Varsity T Hall of Fame?
Huzjak: It was awesome. It was really great. I look back on my career with great pride and great relationships with my teammates, great moments. great memories. It’s just a great honor and one that I’m tremendously proud of. I have four kids so it’s cool to show them that accomplishment when we go back to campus. I value and cherish that very much.

Players mentioned in this article

Diontae Johnson

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