Engineering Excellence on and off the field: Jackson Ritz ‘23

Jackson Ritz, offensive lineman for the SMU Mustangs and senior graduating in Mechanical Engineering, reflects on his remarkable journey and the interconnected worlds of engineering and athletics.

Jackson Ritz '23

On a brisk December evening at New Orleans’ Yulman Stadium, cheers fill the air as the SMU Mustangs revel in their victory over Tulane. This triumph secures SMU’s first American Athletic Conference (ACC) championship title in 39 years. Among the enthusiastic cheers of teammates, Jackson Ritz, an offensive lineman for the SMU Mustangs and a senior in mechanical engineering at Lyle, takes a moment to reflect on his journey at SMU.

“Knowing that my time at SMU is coming to an end is bittersweet,” he said. “As a senior it was the best way to go out: on top. I’ve poured my heart into football at SMU for three years, but now I am looking forward to my career in engineering.”

Ritz started playing football at nine years old, but soon discovered a similar interest in engineering.

“I loved building LEGOs as a kid and coming up with new designs,” Ritz said. “I have always been curious with building devices, taking them apart, and making them more efficient.”

Growing up in Austin, Texas, Ritz found himself immersed in an environment of engineers, including his father and uncle. Their mentorship and encouragement fueled his pursuit of a path in mechanical engineering.

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Balancing the heavy coursework of his studies with the physical demands of football, Ritz stands as a testament to dedication, discipline, and the pursuit of excellence in both academia and athletics. He entered his first year of SMU in Fall 2020 in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was hard at first,” he said. “I contracted COVID in the first few weeks of summer training and went back to Austin to quarantine for 10 days—it was rough.”

SMU Mustangs ACC win

Ritz embodies the ideal fusion of two outwardly different worlds. Off the field, you'll find him involved in the intricate world of mechanics with a passion for detail and an eye for innovation. On the field, he applies engineering principles to his mechanics and technique as an offensive lineman, exemplifying the correlations between football and engineering.

“Football is all about how you organize your day and even your game play” Ritz said. “It all comes down to calculating things the right way—just like in engineering and how we calculate our schedules and plan the work we have to do.”

Engineers are constantly engaged in strategic planning when designing systems. They must understand their projects well, adjusting and adapting to ever changing situations to produce qualitative outcomes.

“As an athlete, I really feel like I have an upper hand when it comes to a future career in engineering,” Ritz said. “There are so many days that it feels hard to wake up early and start my day, but because of the strict regimen in both football and engineering, I’ve learned the importance of hard work and perseverance.”

Ritz recognizes the transferable qualities from football such as punctuality, planning, discipline, and communication.

"Communication is the biggest thing I can attribute to what I've learned at SMU,” he said. For offensive linemen, effective communication is critical to the coordination required for successful blocking and the execution of intricate game plays. Both verbal and non-verbal forms of communication play a crucial role in facilitating these aspects of the game.

“Communication in engineering is also the best way to find out how team members can perform their best in a project,” Ritz said. Mechanical engineers often collaborate in efforts which involve multiple team members. “We rely on clear and direct communication to assign tasks and find solutions to execute our project.”

Mechanical Engineering

He attributes his success to the ease of communication with Lyle professors, small class sizes, and patience his professors showed with his hectic football schedule. He also found beneficial career advice at the Hart Center for Engineering Leadership with now-retired Mechanical Engineering professor Dr. Bruce Gnade. Ritz is currently completing an internship with Dr. Gnade’s LLC, Mustang Optics, where applies his engineering skills in real-world projects related to optical systems and projectors.

“I have known Jackson since his first semester as a freshman when I helped him with his chemistry homework,” Dr. Gnade said. “He is a great example of how you can play football and be an engineering student at the same time. He will be an alum that Lyle will be proud of for a long time.”

Looking ahead, Ritz has plans for eventually pursuing his graduate degree, ultimately choosing between an MBA or a more focused path in mechanical engineering. Through his experiences with SMU football and Lyle, he believes in the power of networking and connections, a principle that drew him to SMU in the first place. "If you put yourself out there and work hard, it pays off," he said. “I am leaving SMU Lyle knowing I have a strong community of professors, students, and mentors supporting me no matter what.”

Ritz holding teammate

About the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering 

SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering thrives on innovation that transcends traditional boundaries. We strongly believe in the power of externally funded, industry-supported research to drive progress and provide exceptional students with valuable industry insights. Our mission is to lead the way in digital transformation within engineering education, all while ensuring that every student graduates as a confident leader. Founded in 1925, SMU Lyle is one of the oldest engineering schools in the Southwest, offering undergraduate and graduate programs, including master’s and doctoral degrees.


About SMU 

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, community and the world.