Argyle fans will long remember the way Layton Lowry finished his high school career in 2010.
After splitting time as a junior as a member of a running back-by-committee setup, Lowry was one of the biggest workhorses in the area as a senior, rushing for 1,811 yards and 22 touchdowns while averaging nearly 18 carries per game.
Last season when Argyle made it to the Class 3A Division II state championship game, the Eagles had another solid running back in Tyler Eveleth, who rushed for 1,297 yards and eight touchdowns while several other players contributed to the ground game that amassed nearly 3,000 yards over the course of a 16-game season.
This season might prove to be more like 2010 when it comes to Argyle’s running game, and it’s looking to all fall on the shoulders of a sophomore.
Nick Ralston was called up from the freshman team before district play began last season and went on to rush for 259 yards and three scores in 11 games.
“I kind of like the pressure of that,” Ralston said of knowing the running game will fall on his shoulders. “It makes me play harder. I kind of want to step up to the challenge and take it on.”
Argyle head coach Todd Rodgers has seen that quality in Ralston for a while now.
He said the Argyle coaching staff pegged Ralston early last season as a guy who could come up to the varsity level and contribute.
“It really, truly was in the plans [to call him up],” Rodgers said. “We thought he had a lot of upside and the potential to acclimate over the course of the year.
“We weren’t sure about the pace at which he’d be ready but he showed great vision, understanding of the offense and a willingness to carry the burden of the offense at the ninth-grade level.”
But the varsity game was a different story. Ralston quickly figured that out when he made his first varsity appearance in last year’s district opener against Aubrey.
He took one square hit and immediately realized he wasn’t on the freshman team anymore.
“It only took about three plays,” Ralston said. “The size and speed of the game was the biggest difference.”
At 5-11, 200 pounds, Ralston should be able to handle the grind of a varsity season, and of all the running backs who have played key roles in Argyle’s offense over recent years, Rodgers compared him to the one who put up the best numbers of any.
“He’s got the foot speed and quickness to be great,” Rodgers said. “He’s a slashing type running back, but he also has tremendous strength and power. He’ll be one of the bigger backs we’ve had. He’s not quite as big as Layton, but he has similar skills.”
Rodgers stressed the fact that aside from Ralston’s obvious football skill, he also the right ingredients mentally to be a great high school running back for the next three seasons.
“He does whatever he has to,” Rodgers said. “You tell him, ‘Here’s a prescription for success,’ and he’ll follow the prescription. He’s all about being successful and all about the team being successful.”
And that mixture means a happy head coach in Rodgers.
“Big, fast running backs are rare,” Rodgers said. “To have a kid that’s that committed to improving himself and committed to the success of his team is a perfect scenario for a head coach.”
Nick Ralston was called up to the varsity team midway through last season and rushed for 259 yards in limited action. The sophomore will take on a much larger role this fall, when he is expected to be a workhorse for the Eagles’ offense. Argyle will have a different look in 2012 after quarterback Austin Aune graduated following last season.
2011 record: 14-2 (5-0 District 9-3A)
Coach: Todd Rodgers (89-28 in nine seasons at Argyle)
Returning starters: Four on offense, three on defense
Key players: WR Ian Sadler, K Cole Hedlund, RB Nick Ralston, LB Sam Sizelove, QB Brandon Boyzuick, DB Reese Thompson
School enrollment: 668
Stadium: Eagle Stadium
Keys to a historic season
Get solid QB play
Brandon Boyzuick was a big part of Argyle’s JV squad last season, contributing all over the field, including as a Wildcat quarterback. Hunter Treadwell, also a junior, is a move-in from Grapevine. One of them, most likely Boyzuick, will have to step under center and lead Argyle’s offense while trying to fill the shoes left by three-year starter Austin Aune, who is now in the New York Yankees system. Aune was a proven winner and had the “it” factor people look for in quarterbacks.
Be big up front
The biggest question mark for the Eagles is the play they’ll receive from several defensive linemen looking to step into starting roles. Last season, the Eagles allowed 122 yards per game on the ground and will look to do the same with a new cast of characters in 2012. Several are being counted on to fill key roles, including Wood Speed, Micah Capra, Reagen Page and Hunter Stewart.
Last season, junior Ian Sadler took 3A by storm when he caught 54 balls for 1,124 and 12 touchdowns while also being a big part of Argyle’s return game. He’s moving to an inside receiver spot this season and will be flanked on the outside by Chance Bode and either Dalton Ledford or Chase Green. Sadler will draw a lot of coverage, meaning other, less experienced players will have to capitalize on opportunities.
Through the uprights
Cole Hedlund emerged on the scene last season when he set a national record for field goals made in a season with 25. This season, the junior will be called upon to lead the Eagles’ kicking game not only with his efficiency on field goals and extra points (25-of-30 on field goals, 72-of-74 on extra points) but also on kickoffs. Last season, he had 17 touchbacks to help out Argyle’s defense and that number should continue to grow as Hedlund gets stronger with age.