He walks through the hallways of the NovaCare Complex and people take notice. "What's up, DeMeco?" "How are you, ‘Meco?" Whether he is in the football side of the building or crossing paths in the accounting department or walking past someone from marketing, DeMeco Ryans is seen, heard and respected.
You've come to understand that Ryans is the leader of this Eagles football team, and maybe you wonder why. Or how. Or what makes him the leader when there are other players with higher profiles or more accomplishments or more tenure as Eagles.
"DeMeco is the kind of guy you want your daughter to marry," says inside linebackers coach Rick Minter. "He commands a room, no matter how big or small it is. He's someone who is comfortable being in the position of leader, who prepares himself to be great. I love the guy. It's impossible not to love him. He's responsible, he's respectful and he is fair. He's a born leader who does it the right way."
What constitutes a leader in a locker room of 53 great football players who have been stars their entire lives? There have been many with the Eagles over the years, and maybe not the players you think. Cornerback Troy Vincent wasn't a glamorous guy, but he was a fantastic football player who was a guiding voice of reason in the locker room for young players finding their way on and off the field. Offensive tackle Jon Runyan was someone who earned respect by playing through pain and leaving every ounce of his football soul on the field each week. Quarterback Donovan McNabb was the focal point of the team during his time as an Eagle and he handled the scrutiny well. Everyone understood that McNabb was the key piece in the turnaround of the franchise, and the team looked to McNabb each week as the Eagles reached five NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl.
Defensive end William Fuller, way back in the 1990s, led with his professionalism and his production. Reggie White was an icon to all, and he carried himself with dignity and pride. Ike Reese made those around him take pride in special teams, and the Eagles' units were among the best in the NFL during Reese's time here.
Safety Brian Dawkins, of course, is heralded as an all-time leader, and that's true in its own way. Dawkins could get anyone riled up on game day with his vocal inspiration and his fly-around-the-field play, but during the week he was quiet, introspective and largely content in his front corner of the locker room.
Ryans transcends what all leaders have been here. He knows names, no matter whether his audience is a fellow linebacker or an in-house reporter. Acquired in a trade from Houston prior to the 2012 season, Ryans lived through the 4-12 nightmare of that year. He never backed down from the media, and never dropped his head among his teammates. He played hard, coming back from an Achilles tendon injury, remember, and earned everyone's respect as the instant leader on the team.
As the Eagles transformed in 2013 with new head coach Chip Kelly at the helm, Ryan's role was recognized beyond the team walls as teammates and coaches spoke of his ability to motivate and to lead a young team through some murky early waters to the NFC East title and the playoffs.
"DeMeco is the ultimate leader," says fellow linebacker Mychal Kendricks. "I try to pattern everything I do after what he does. You ask him a question and he has the answer about anything. He's here to help us and lead the team."
"He's a real guy," says defensive lineman Fletcher Cox. "He gets everyone going every day. He's the one we all look to."
It wouldn't work for Ryans if he played poorly, and that's far from the case. Ryans played the most snaps of any defensive player in the NFL last season and has registered 10 or more tackles in 17 of the 33 games he's played as an Eagle. Ryans is an ironman with a remarkable work ethic and appetite for the game.
And as a leader? There are none better, and have been none better, to grace the roster of the Philadelphia Eagles in the most recent generation of football.