EVERETT — Ray Pimentel’s comeback journey began in the opening minute of last year’s Class 2A state championship game.
On a designed misdirection play, the speedy 5-foot-8 Archbishop Murphy running back swung out of the backfield and blew past the opposing linebacker on a wheel route down the right sideline. He then hauled in the pass and sprinted the rest of the way for a 60-yard touchdown.
Pimentel seemingly hasn’t stopped running since.
After a dislocated elbow derailed most of his junior season, the standout playmaker has bounced back this fall with an exceptional senior campaign.
Pimentel has rushed for 2,084 yards and 28 touchdowns this year, averaging 174 yards per game and 10.4 yards per carry.
Heading into Saturday’s 2A state semifinal against Tumwater, he is just 51 yards shy of Archbishop Murphy’s single-season rushing record held by former University of Idaho safety Jevon Butler.
“Coming off a season like last year, being able to do all of this has just really been a gift,” Pimentel said. “I knew I was going to do a lot better than last season, but I never knew I was going to do this good.”
Pimentel spent his first two years of high school at Marysville Pilchuck, where he earned second-team All-Wesco 3A North football honors as a sophomore. Then after choosing to transfer to Archbishop Murphy, he suffered a dislocated elbow during a practice drill in the week leading up to last year’s season opener.
Pimentel was sidelined for the first half of last season and struggled to re-enter the running-back rotation once he returned, finishing the year with just seven carries.
“You could just see a kid like him who’s been through a lot, it just drained him emotionally,” Wildcats coach Jerry Jensen said of the injury.
“So we drew something up in the state championship game to isolate him and give him a chance at a little bit of success last year.”
Pimentel made the most of his opportunity in the state title game, and carried that momentum into a strong senior campaign.
Emmanuel Osuoha, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound power back, was originally slated to be the workhorse in Archbishop Murphy’s rushing attack this season, with Pimentel serving as a speedy complement.
But when Osuoha went down with a torn ACL in late July, the Wildcats turned to Pimentel.
He certainly has delivered.
Pimentel has rushed for 100-plus yards in 10 of 12 games this season and topped 200 yards three times, including a season-high 316-yard performance against Granite Falls.
“We knew going into (the season) that with a sophomore quarterback, we were going to have to establish the run every week,” Jensen said. “And to Ray’s credit, he’s enabled us to do that.
“After the first (few) weeks, we knew that we could go to Ray and lean on him.”
Jensen said Pimentel’s greatest strength is his initial burst of speed, which also is evident when he runs the 100 meters in track and field.
“After 50 yards, he’s the first kid,” Jensen said. “The other guys can kind of catch up and surpass him after that. But his initial 20 yards is really, really fast.
“When he puts his foot in the ground and decides to go, that burst is special.”
Jensen said one of Pimentel’s biggest improvements this season is his ability to read blocks and find holes.
“When he gets the ball, he’s patient with it to let something open up,” Jensen said. “And then once he sees it, he commits to it. Once he decides to go, he’s gone.”
Pimentel praised his offensive linemen for their role in his standout season.
“The line that I have is definitely a huge benefit,” Pimentel said. “All the push that they can get for me is definitely what’s gotten me a lot further.
“Everybody on the team has been able to help me out,” he added. “Everybody’s been able to encourage me, especially after the very minimal season I had last year. The team has been able to get me through all of it.”