Ryan Black was practically a running highlight reel this spring.
The Glacier Peak High School star running back had a mere five games to showcase his talents during Wesco’s abbreviated season. But during that short span, he rattled off more long touchdowns than most prep tailbacks do over their entire career.
Black broke an astounding eight touchdowns of 49-plus yards, including five scores from more than 60 yards out.
No matter where the Grizzlies were on the field, their explosive senior back was a threat to score.
“He’s the first offensive player I’ve ever been around where the mentality for me has just been: ‘Just hand him the ball. He’s gonna go score,’” said Glacier Peak coach Shane Keck, who’s been coaching high school and community college football for nearly two decades.
“We only (needed) to give Ryan a crease,” he added. “… Just hand him the ball, and he’s gonna go score.”
Black finished the five-game slate with 994 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns to help lead the Grizzlies to a 4-1 season. He ran for 885 yards and 11 scores, while averaging 10.1 yards per carry. He also caught six passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
And he capped his senior campaign with one of the great individual performances in recent Snohomish County prep football history, when he rushed for a whopping 348 yards and three scores on 32 carries against perennial powerhouse Lake Stevens.
For his extraordinary season, Black is The Herald’s 2021 All-Area Football Player of the Year.
“That guy’s athletic and powerful and (has) great vision and runs hard and breaks tackles,” Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said after Black ran wild against his defense. “… Man, he’s one of the best running backs we’ve seen in a long time. He’s special.”
Black got off to a strong start through his first three games, racking up 400 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns against Marysville Pilchuck, Snohomish and Archbishop Murphy. That included a pair of dazzling long touchdowns against Snohomish, both of which featured him eluding multiple defenders on his way to the end zone.
But he hit another gear in his final two games, combining for 594 total yards and eight touchdowns against Monroe and Lake Stevens.
“We knew that Ryan was going to be a really good part of our offense,” Keck said. “We didn’t realize he was gonna be able to explode like he did and really get better as our five-game season went along.
“We started to get into (the season) and really realize, ‘Man, this guy can just flat go,’” he added. “It became apparent that (he’s) really unique and really special, and we really just started to ride him.”
Black opened the Monroe game by bursting up the middle for a 73-yard touchdown run on the very first snap. It was a bit of revenge for last season, when the Bearcats scored on the opening snap en route to a win over Glacier Peak.
“It definitely felt really good to kind of give them a taste of their own medicine,” Black said.
That set the tone for a monstrous night from Black. The 5-foot-11, 205-pounder showcased his breakaway speed with three touchdown runs of 55-plus yards in the game’s first 17 minutes. He finished with 235 yards and four scores on just 11 carries and also caught a touchdown pass, leading the Grizzlies to a 63-21 blowout victory.
“He’s extremely fluid and really efficient,” Keck said. “Oftentimes, honestly, it looks like he’s floating. His upper body is kind of staying still and his lower body is just moving him. He’s (also) really strong, and so he’s really physical and breaks tackles really well.
“And then to top it off, he’s really fast. … He never gets caught. When he gets out in space, it’s over.”
Black then provided a spectacular encore the following week, when he gashed Lake Stevens’ defense during a Wesco 4A season-finale showdown of unbeatens. A 348-yard rushing performance is impressive regardless of the opponent. But to do so against the perennial power Vikings is unheard of.
Black broke touchdown runs of 87, 67 and 49 yards that night, helping Glacier Peak hang with Lake Stevens until the Vikings pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 63-35 win.
The most memorable moment from Black’s performance came in the first quarter, when the Grizzlies boldly elected to go for it on fourth-and-2 from their own 13-yard line. The gamble paid off in a major way, as Black took a handoff around the right end and sprinted down the sideline for an 87-yard score.
“At that moment, we were like, ‘Hey, this kid’s the best player on the field,’” Keck said. “And we felt that for the last two years at times. We’ve played teams that have Division I players, (and) Ryan’s the best player on the field.”
But for Black, it’s not just natural talent. Keck also heaped praise on his star’s work ethic.
“He’s the hardest worker on the practice field,” Keck said. “He’s winning every conditioning rep. He’s trying to be the very best every day. When you get the special players, those guys win every rep. They sprint to the end zone when they don’t have to. They do the extra reps in the weight room.
“And so all of that combined I think has given him this opportunity to just kind of explode and have a special senior year.”
During his sophomore and junior seasons, Black was actually more of a defensive standout for Glacier Peak. Last season, he earned first-team All-Area honors at linebacker, while also serving as the team’s backup running back.
“For the previous two years, he had been maybe our best defensive player,” Keck said. “And I really thought at the college level he was a defensive player. And I think a lot of people that are looking at him now want to see him play running back.”
With Black shouldering the load at tailback this season, his primary contributions were on the offensive side. He still made an impact on defense though, while playing a mix of both safety and outside linebacker.
“Defensively, what makes him so good is that he’s so explosive,” Keck said. “The difference between him and most high school players is when he decides to go run and make a tackle, he is running full-speed at the other guy and is gonna hit him as hard as he can.
“He’s so fast out in space and can cover ground,” Keck added. “That’s what’s made him a good outside linebacker and safety type of guy. … He was able to really kind of take away one half of the field for us (this season).”
Black said running back has always been his favorite position, but that he’s open to playing on either offense or defense in college.
“I’m talking to some schools right now,” he said. “My goal is to play Division I football, but it’s been kind of a weird year with recruiting with COVID and everything, so I’m not entirely sure what my plan is yet. … I just wanna be patient. And I think if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”
Keck said that while the delayed high school season and other recruiting-based side effects from the coronavirus pandemic have negatively impacted Black, he’s confident his star senior will find a good landing spot.
“The COVID recruiting cycle has been really, really tough on guys like him who are not quite as tall as a lot of the colleges are looking for nowadays,” Keck said. “And so he really needed this senior year to kind of do what he did to hopefully get some more recruiting looks.
“I think he’s the most under-recruited player in the state of Washington,” he added. “At times, he’s the best player in the state, period. I mean, he’s unbelievable. … We’re gonna miss him dearly. And he’s gonna find a place to play.”