After three weeks of long bus rides, three road victories and a week of rest, Ryan finally will have a chance to play on its home field and new turf at C.H. Collins Athletic Complex.
In those three road games, Ryan’s rushing attack ripped up opposing defenses and foreign fields en route to victories.
Ryan’s running backs have a chance to continue the trend tonight when the Raiders face the McKinney Lions at 7:30 on homecoming night in Ryan’s first game against a Class 5A team.
The Raiders (3-0) are averaging 317.6 yards per game and are coming off a 350-yard rushing performance in a drubbing of Wylie East two weeks ago. McKinney (3-1) is coming off three straight victories as well, including a 48-7 win over North Garland last week.
Ryan coach Joey Florence said the rushing attack has been pivotal to a balanced offense that’s rolled through three games.
“We’re trying to be balanced, which means we want to take what the defense is giving us,” Florence said. “But I believe you have to be able to run the football and play great defense if you’re going to win state championships. It’s big — we put a lot of emphasis on running the ball.”
The source of Ryan’s success on the ground comes from two players who weren’t starting in the backfield at the start of 2012.
Last season, senior Tyrone Williams was a linebacker before a key touchdown run in a win over Corsicana spurred a permanent move to the backfield. Junior Maurice Gordon went into last season as the No. 2 running back behind A.J. Anderson but broke his elbow on the first day of full-contact practice and was out for the first five games.
This year, Williams and Gordon have flourished.
Williams has rushed for 473 yards, including a career-high 214 yards in the season opener against Corsicana. Gordon’s highest career total came against Wylie East, when he rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns.
The two running backs gained the services of assistant coach Shelton Gandy this season. Gandy was an assistant coach at North Texas, Louisiana Tech and Southern Mississippi before spending a year at Marble Falls with former UNT and Southlake Carroll head coach Todd Dodge.
Gandy was hired at Ryan in June. When he first looked at his running backs, he knew Williams and Gordon had the chance to be really good players. So far, Gandy said, he is content with the backfield’s production.
“I’m very pleased, but I don’t think they’ve tapped their potential yet. I think they’ve got a lot of upside,” Gandy said.
The new Ryan assistant has helped Williams change his running style and directed him to run toward the goal line instead of running horizontally, looking for gaps to exploit.
Williams lost a fumble in two of the first three games, and the senior said it’s something he and the coaching staff have worked on daily to eradicate.
“It’s bothered me a lot, but Coach had me work on it every day about fumbling,” Williams said.
Gandy says Williams can be a potent force for the Raiders.
“Tyrone, sometimes he runs high,” Gandy said. “He’s such a man among boys that he can get away with it. Once he really learns how to run, I think it’s going to be really dangerous.”
Williams’ burden in the backfield was lifted significantly with Gordon’s insertion into the lineup this season. While Williams takes a few tacklers with him to the ground and has a very straightforward running approach, Gordon’s quickness and elusiveness have benefitted the team.
Gordon’s talents were on full display against Wylie East. On Ryan’s first play of the fourth quarter, Gordon ripped down the left sideline for a 75-yard touchdown that allowed Florence to put in his second-string offense.
“It felt great,” Gordon said of the touchdown run. “It felt great.”
Florence said he is proud of the way Gordon came back from his injury last season.
“Maurice is such a great kid,” Florence said. “He worked hard, never got discouraged, stayed with it. He’s a really good back right now. The great thing about Mo is that he’s only going to get better. He’s a young junior. Every game he gets a little bit better, and we’re excited. He’s the fastest guy on the team.”
Williams and Gordon’s success opened the passing game for the Raiders against Wichita Falls Rider, as senior quarterback Mitchell Bridges threw for 231 yards and three touchdowns in a rout.
Bridges agreed with his coaches and said this year’s offense is very balanced compared with last season. With the way Gordon and Williams have excelled, Bridges said his job has become less difficult.
“It makes it a lot easier back there, knowing that no matter who we give it to it can go 80 yards just like that,” Bridges said.
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.