TOWSON, Md. - Nick Ranko of the Tiger football team gives a whole new meaning to the term “veteran tight end.”
Although he hasn’t played too much football for the Tigers, Ranko is a different kind of veteran. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.
A native of Foxborough, Mass., Ranko took a very indirect route to Towson University.
When he graduated from Foxborough High School in 2006, he passed up a wrestling scholarship to enlist in the Marine Corps.
“I thought it was time for me to do my part,” he explains.
For the next four years, Ranko was stationed all around the world as a member of the Marine Corps. He spent a significant amount of time at Camp Lejune in North Carolina and Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.
However, the most significant time was the eight months in 2008 when he was serving in Iraq.
“I was part of a security batallion and we were stationed in Al Anbar province,” he explains. “We went on daily patrols throughout the area. Part of our duty was to bring food and water for the local villagers who were in need.
“Most of them were very grateful and some of them even invited us into their homes for tea,” he added.
“Many of our patrols were routine,” he said. “Sometimes we had bring people in for questioning. But, for the most part we were doing security work.”
Ranko enjoyed his time in Iraq. For most of his deployment, he stayed in a house in a compound with some of the other soldiers. The troops used to pass their free time playing X-Box games on the television set.
However, Ranko recalls that the weather was the biggest adjustment for him.
“It was always hot there,” he says. “Every day, the temperature was between 110 and 120 degrees.”
But that wasn’t even the worst of it.
“The worst part was the sand storms,” he recalls. “They were crazy. We would be out on patrol and all of a sudden, with almost no warning, we would see a wall of sand coming at us.
“During those sand storms, everything turned orange and you tried to take cover,” he added. “Everything was orange because of the hot sun beating down on it. It felt like it was raining sand. That was the worst.”
After his tour in Iraq was complete, Corporal Ranko returned to the United States and was assigned to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. It was at Fort Leonard Wood that he started to play football.
Ranko’s tour in the Marine Corps ended after four years. At that point, he wanted to attend college. After earning All-Camp honors as a football player, he considered the idea of trying to play college football.
That desire led him to Towson University. While attending the University on the G.I. bill, he earned a spot on the Tiger football team.
“This has been a tremendous experience for me,” he admits. “When a lot of people leave the military, they have a difficult time adjusting to life as a civilian. One of the reasons for that issue is that the miss the closeness and camadarie of the people in their unit.
“Being a member of the Towson football team has helped my adjustment,” he says. “The team members have taken the place of the rest of the people in my unit.”
A sports management major, Ranko is clearly the oldest player on the Tiger roster. He will celebrate his 25th birthday in October.
Ranko, who will graduate in only three years because of courses he took in the military, enjoys his role as the Tigers’ elder statesman.
“A number of my teammates have asked me about my experience in the military,” he says. “But some of them just ask me about balancing a check book or other ordinary responsibilies.
“I’ve really enjoyed being a member of this team,” says Ranko. “It’s one of the reasons we have been successful.”