Ten years before Mitchell Bridges began his senior season at Ryan, he walked up to Raiders coach Joey Florence as an 8-year-old following one of the worst losses of Florence’s early tenure.
Ryan was coming off a 56-18 drubbing at Ennis, and Bridges asked his dad if he could be the team’s ball boy. His father said his son would have to go ask Florence but probably should wait for the team to simmer down.
Instead, the 8-year-old recklessly approached Florence.
“I didn’t think he’d go ask him,” Sam Bridges said. “He went right up to coach Florence and asked him, and coach Florence said ‘Sure!’”
Since he was in elementary school, Bridges has stood on the sidelines to see Ryan succeed under Florence.
Now a senior and the starting quarterback, Bridges will command the Raiders (7-2) against Colleyville Heritage (8-2) in the Class 5A Division II Region I bi-district round. Kickoff is set for 7:30 tonight at Mustang-Panther Stadium in Grapevine.
Bridges’ recklessness helped him compensate for his short stature, and he is one of the main reasons the Raiders reached the playoffs for the 14th straight season.
“He’s got as strong an arm as anybody we’ve had,” Florence said. “He can make throws, but he’s also got great feet. He doesn’t get sacked a lot. He’s a very good high school quarterback. He’s one of the best ones we’ve had here.”
In three years at the varsity level, Bridges has played with a broken fibula and went an entire season with a torn shoulder labrum.
Before the season started, the coaching staff sat with Bridges and asked him to amend his style of play. Bridges, listed at 5-9 and 185 pounds, wasn’t too happy with the changes.
“I knew where they were coming from, but it was still kind of hard to get through my mind to not run as much as I did last year, but it was for the better of the team,” Bridges said.
Last season, Bridges missed four regular-season games with various injuries and was knocked out of a fifth game. His knack for dropping back to pass, pulling the ball down and running up the field to pick up yards and hit somebody had to be curbed if Ryan wanted a healthy quarterback and a good season.
“He’s a tough kid,” Florence said. “But, yes, there’s always a time to use some good judgment and get down and not take unnecessary hits. But at the same time, that’s what makes him good.
“You’ve just got to respect that, cross your fingers and hope nothing happens to him.”
Bridges has started every game this season and has avoided major injuries. Ryan offensive coordinator Conroy Hines said keeping Bridges healthy has been the absolute goal from the beginning of the season.
Hines received orders from Florence to do his best to keep Bridges from sustaining unnecessary damage. Fortunately for Ryan, the starters have been pulled early in Ryan’s many blowouts this season.
“We jumped out in the lead and he would tell me — and he’s told me this several times when we’re ahead this year — ‘Hey, do everything in your power to make sure Mitchell does not get hit,’” Hines said.
But even if Bridges sustained an injury, it did not mean he was going to sit out. It usually meant he wasn’t going to tell anybody about it.
In his sophomore year, Bridges was a short-yardage specialist and suffered a torn labrum against Carrollton Smith in the second game of the season. Two games later against Mesquite, Bridges leaped and was hit in midair, spun like helicopter blades and scored the game-winning touchdown in double overtime to give the Raiders a 28-22 victory.
Last year against Corsicana, he broke his leg in the second quarter and played through it to help Ryan erase a 22-point deficit and win 40-28.
In both instances, Bridges kept the injuries to himself.
Bridges attributes the toughness to his grandfather Dwain Bean. Bean was a tailback at North Texas and led the Missouri Valley Conference in rushing in 1962 and 1963. He went on to play in the Canadian Football League and was inducted into the North Texas Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997.
This season, Bridges has thrown for 1,252 yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions in nine games. He has steadily led a Ryan offense that is flourishing with him in the backfield.
“Him being there, we can run the offense more clearly and better,” Ryan junior offensive lineman Tristan Brown said. “With him not in there, we have to put in different quarterbacks who don’t know everything like he knows things. It’s crazy how much he knows about this offense.”
Bridges is the latest in a prolific Ryan quarterback line that includes James Battle (TCU), Justin Willis (SMU) and Scotty Young (Louisiana Tech).
Bridges grew up watching Battle pull off a miraculous comeback against Ennis in the 2002 Class 4A semifinals at Texas Stadium. Sam Bridges said his son joined Battle after games and played catch, the Ryan legend throwing the ball to the Raiders’ future quarterback.
Now Bridges looks to lead his team to Arlington’s AT&T Stadium.
“The best thing about this season,” Bridges said, “is winning with all the kids you’ve grown up with and playing with them finally a full season and being able to do what we’ve set out to do since freshman year — make a run at the state title.”