Emerging from his calculus midterm this week, Ryan Meara looked every bit the part of a regular Fordham senior. Baggy sweatshirt, bleary eyes, white sneakers and a blue spiral notebook under his arm.
"At least it's over," he said. Now he could get back to his senior year extracurriculars, like road-tripping with his buddies, going to the gym and being the starting goalkeeper for the New York Red Bulls.
Four months ago, differential equations would have been near the top of Meara's list of concerns. He had just completed an excellent college goalkeeping career and was racking up the credits he needed to graduate. He had even registered for spring classes. Then, in the middle of January, the call came from the Red Bulls. He was to report to preseason training in four days.
In the best-case scenario, he figured, he would be competing for the backup role. So, just in case, he drew up a backup plan.
Meara worked out how he could finish his classes during the season and signed himself up for this spring's Fire Department exam. Should the whole professional soccer thing not work out for him, he wants to make sure he has a college degree and would not think twice about trading in his goalkeeper gloves for, well, other gloves—just more fire-retardant.
Joining the department someday has been on Meara's mind since he was a kid, for obvious reasons. He is the son, grandson and nephew of New York City firefighters.
"It is a big part of my family, the Fire Department — but if I'd wanted to become a cop, I don't think anyone would have held it against me," he said. "My dad would take me and my brothers to the firehouse every now and then. And the thing that always stuck with me is that it's such a close-knit group of guys."
Meara thinks he is unlikely to actually sit for the test this time around—his schedule means he cannot devote enough time to studying for it. So the FDNY will not be drafting Meara anytime soon. Besides, the Red Bulls beat it to the punch.