FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Two of Rex Ryan's top students from the Ravens followed him to the Jets in free agency. Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard each have had a big impact on their new team heading into Sunday's AFC Championship Game, the second straight for Scott and Leonhard.
There was never a doubt in either player's mind that they would play for Ryan once he became a head coach.
"I wanted to see if I could be a part of that and keep the magic going," Scott said Wednesday. "I owe a lot of my success to him, because he took a chance on me. I came out, undrafted, running down the field on kickoffs, and he allowed me to dream, to be a starter and he coached me. A lot of guys running down on kickoffs don't get the chance to be coached like that."
Ryan's brashness as a head coach was nothing new to Scott and Leonhard, even if most people around the Jets hadn't seen anything like it. But the main reason Scott and Leonhard would have followed Ryan anywhere has more to do with the way Ryan is away from the microphones.
Scott was an undrafted rookie out of Southern Illinois when he joined the Ravens in 2002. Leonhard was undrafted out of Wisconsin and made the Bills in 2005 before signing with the Ravens before the 2008 season.
Ryan showed faith in both of them - with Scott when he stepped in for the Ravens' Ray Lewis in 2005 and Leonhard when he took the starting safety spot when Dawan Landry was out with an injury - and it was rewarded with an unlikely trip to last season's AFC championship.
"Guys play for him because he takes so much for his players," Scott said. "He's on the front lines. He's not there watching, he's interacting, not just with the stars or somebody that's important, but the last man on the roster. I was the last man on the roster. I came here because I was honored that he chose to have his legacy intertwine with mine. I'm dedicated to seeing he's successful, not for myself, but for him."
When Ryan got the Jets' job, Scott and Leonhard talked about joining their defensive coordinator. It was a short chat.
"I think we both had a pretty good idea that we were going to follow Rex where he went after what he had done for our careers and the interest he showed us in Baltimore," Leonhard said.
Scott has been a vocal leader since he arrived; Leonhard, who didn't miss a game despite suffering torn ligaments in his thumb in November, has come on in the playoffs with an interception and forced fumble.
"We're just two of the guys," Leonhard said. "It's not like we came in and tried to take over. Guys have been great. No one took offense to us coming in and getting the attention we did."