He is an emerging NRL star in the ranks of the Gold Coast Titans after a breakout 2016 season, and now Ryan James is a Griffith graduate after completing a business degree.
The 25-year-old will formally receive is Bachelor of Business from Griffith Business School at a graduation ceremony at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre last Saturday.
"To get there in the end, with a lot of help behind the scenes, means the world to me," he said.
"I’ve got further goals and I want to do bigger things. Knowing I’ve finally got through this and that I can do it, I’ll be able to accomplish more."
Ryan is now considering a prompt return to university to take on a Graduate Diploma of Education with a view to a future teaching role.
A key focus for the powerful forward is improving school attendance numbers among Indigenous youth in remote communities. He has been inspired tremendously by the impact of NRL legend Preston Campbell in this respect.
"School attendance isn’t great in those remote communities and if we can spread the word out there and make sure they get through their schooling and maybe are trying to get some sort of secondary education it would be good.
"I just want to help kids to develop towards secondary education. You need that qualification to go a little bit further in life."
When he started his studies at Griffith’s Gold Coast campus, Ryan immediately had the help of the GUMURRII Student Support Unit.
"They told me that 3% of the Indigenous population started university but less than 1% finish. That’s really small numbers when you think about the population of Australia and it would be great to see those numbers increase."
As an elite athlete Ryan also benefited from the backing of the Griffith Sports College from the start of his studies, who collaborated with the Gold Coast Titans to assimilate his study schedule into his football itinerary.
After a strong start to his full-time studies, Ryan secured a life-changing first-grade contract with the Titans. "That’s when uni almost had to take a back seat. I had studied, I think, for four years straight, then had a bit of a break and then the Sports College gave me a call and said I had to finish it."
The support has been unrelenting since he reopened the books with the Sports College helping to bring about the flexibility needed to balance assessments and exams with the life of a professional footballer constantly on the move.
"No one really sees the hard work that happens behind the scenes but I’d definitely say that without the Sports College I wouldn’t have got my degree.
"If I had to hand every assessment in on time, it’d be pretty much near impossible because I’m travelling every second week and if I’m not at university I’m training.
"But study definitely helped me play footy. I had one of my best seasons yet. And being able to come onto campus to study and get away from everything also helped too."
He will graduate with a degree in sport management and marketing, a qualification that sets him up for his future on the Gold Coast where he has no plans of leaving.
"The major in sports management related back to the football. Having a background in sport made it a little bit easier for me. Marketing was something that captured my eye. It very much integrates with footy now and everything that social media is doing and how you have to market yourself and how you present yourself in the media.
Ryan and his wife Ana also welcomed their first child, Carter, into the world during the course of his studies.
"Having all these other obstacles in the way and being able to complete a degree, even though it took seven years, it sort of helped me as a person grow. It got to a stage where I wanted to complete it just to know I could do it myself.
He joins teammates William Zillman and Anthony Don among the ranks of Titans with degrees.
"Footy could last 10 years or it could last a day depending on how lucky you are, so you have to have something else behind you. And I thought getting a degree was definitely going to help that."
This article and video first appeared on Titans.com.au