HASTINGS, Neb. — Every time he watches his daughter compete, practice or train, Wayne Meylan Jr. sees a focused ferocity that reminds him of the original source of those competitive gifts.
Ruby Meylan took a swing at volleyball and a shot at basketball, but once she got a bat in her hand, the granddaughter of a Nebraska football legend knew which sport she wanted to call her own.
“I’m not sure whether Ruby found softball or softball found Ruby,” Wayne said. “She’s just gifted beyond measure. Her attitude and the way she strives for perfection reminds me of my dad. Like him, her work ethic is second to none.”
Ruby Meylan is a sophomore pitcher and designated player for Class B No. 1-ranked Omaha Skutt. The 27-2 SkyHawks open play in the Nebraska state high school softball tournament Wednesday at 10 a.m. against Seward at the Smith Softball Complex.
She has made great strides to be a big contributor on a talented team that also features sophomore twins Hannah and Lauren Camenzind. All three players have top-level Division I talent; coaches at big-name Power Five schools already are interested.
Meylan is hitting .500 (40 of 80) with 28 runs scored, 45 RBIs and 12 home runs. She’s also a force in the circle with a 10-2 record and 2.15 ERA.
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Wayne Meylan was one of Bob Devaney’s favorite players in his days as Husker football coach. The final time I had an on-the-record chat with Coach Devaney was in December 1993 after he became athletic director emeritus.
Both men were from Michigan — Devaney from Saginaw, Meylan from Bay City. Kindred spirits despite the age difference. When Meylan’s name came up in our conversation, Devaney couldn’t stop beaming.
“If I had to go into an alley fight and could take only one person with me,” Devaney said, “it would be Wayne Meylan.”
Nobody tougher or smarter. No one more loyal. A man you could count on in any situation. Those were just a few of the reasons Nebraska’s College Football Hall of Fame coach had such an affinity for his College Football Hall of Fame nose guard.
In 1966 and 1967, Meylan was a consensus first team All-American and the Big Eight Conference player of the year. Meylan was selected by Cleveland in the fourth round of the 1968 NFL draft. He played two seasons for the Browns and one year for the Minnesota Vikings.
Meylan’s No. 66 is displayed with the other retired Husker jerseys on the façade of North Stadium. That number also is the one Ruby wears during the club season, her nod to the heavens.
Ruby never got to meet Grandpa Wayne. He died in an airplane crash during an air show in Ludington, Michigan, on June 26, 1987, at age 41. Ruby’s father was 13 when his father died.
“My dad and other people have told me lots of stories about him,” Ruby said. “My dad says I have a work ethic just like his. He was a really smart man, and he was so strong.”
Wayne Meylan Jr. said the similarities between his father and daughter grow every year.
“Ruby is probably more like my father than I am,” Meylan said. “She has God-given physical abilities like my dad had, and combine that with her work ethic, she definitely has some special gifts.”
Though she’s just 15, Ruby Meylan already is 6 feet tall and cuts an imposing figure at the plate or in the circle. She didn’t start playing softball until sixth grade, so she’s just beginning to add some fine edges to different parts of her game.
“I played volleyball from fourth through sixth grade,” she said. “I gave up basketball in seventh grade because I really fell in love with softball. Things came pretty naturally for me, but I’ve also had a lot of coaches help me along the way.”
Wayne Meylan said much of the credit for Ruby’s development goes to Dick Jablonski, whose daughter Kaylan led Skutt to its only two Class B state titles before playing college ball at Nebraska.
Jablonski has always remembered how kind and helpful so many people were to his daughter during her developmental years that he has given hitting lessons for many years for no charge.
After Wayne Meylan’s father died, he said, he had a mentor who took him under his wing and helped him get through some rough patches before and during his time as a student at Elkhorn High School.
Former Nebraska quarterback Steve Runty had Meylan come live with him. Meylan said his father and Runty were close friends, and Runty wanted to help his friend’s son at a pivotal point in his life.
They would work out together. Meylan would go to work with Runty in the summer, and Runty would make sure he got to school on time when summer break was over.
Meylan said Jablonski has been that kind of a mentor for Ruby.
“Ruby and I were at the batting cages one day, and her swing was horrible,” Meylan said. “Dick just happened to walk by and asked if there was anything he could do to help. I didn’t know anything about softball, so we said yes.
“Dick really took a shine to Ruby right when she was getting into club-level stuff. She’s always been a big kid, and athletically she’s gifted beyond measure. She takes her size and strength and tries to make the most of it.”
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An important element of softball to Ruby is team chemistry — an intangible that Skutt lacked last year, she said, but has this season.
After winning their second state title in 2013, the SkyHawks missed state the next four years. So when they made the 2018 field, it was a new experience for every player.
The SkyHawks finished third, but they’re hoping for a better finish this week.
“It was our goal to win it last year, but finishing third kind of pumped us up for this year,” Meylan said. “We hadn’t been to state in a long time, so we were disappointed. Everyone lifted really hard in the weight room, practiced really hard every time.”
Meylan said Skutt coach Keith Engelkamp said the team needs to take things one game at a time and not look ahead this week.
“They say don’t think you can just fly over anyone,” Meylan said. “We’re ranked No. 1, but there are seven other good teams that want to do the same thing we do, win a championship.”
She knows No. 66 would love to see the same result.