ARGYLE — For every yard he’s gained this season, for every record-setting touchdown he’s scored, Nick Ralston has been driven by a single goal: to win a state championship.
That goal is within reach for the junior running back from Argyle, and his performance on the field is a key reason the Eagles will be playing for the Class 3A Division II title at 4 p.m. Friday against Fairfield at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium.
“It just gives me chills thinking about it,” Ralston said of the opportunity to play in the big game. “I just remember when I was a freshman and we were there against Wimberley, and I remember the feeling we had when we lost. We don’t want that feeling again. It was a real motivation for us to get back to that game.”
Argyle lost the 2011 state title game to Wimberley 21-14, the Eagles’ second loss in a state final in six years. They were ousted in the regional semifinals last season by rival Gilmer, but with 30 seniors, including 18 returning starters, and nearly a dozen players who were part of that 2011 team, the Eagles have put together an undefeated season, taken out Gilmer in the process and stayed on track to deliver Argyle’s first state football trophy.
Ralston, who played in the 2011 final on special teams as a freshman, has been the unheralded hero on a star-studded Eagles team. Four players have verbally committed to Football Bowl Subdivision programs in football: receiver Ian Sadler and defensive back Connor Wilson to Texas Tech, linebacker Sam Sizelove to Kansas State and kicker Cole Hedlund to Arkansas. One Argyle football player, Reese Thompson, is headed to Texas on a track scholarship.
The 6-1, 220-pound Ralston, has been putting up numbers that are likely to attract attention by the time he’s a senior:
— He has rushed for 3,458 yards in two seasons as a starter.
— He set a school record for most yards rushing in a game with 365 against Melissa in the area round of the playoffs in November.
— He set a school record for most rushing touchdowns in a season with 31.
— He set a school record for most career rushing touchdowns with 53.
— He averages 8.36 yards per carry.
— He tied the school record for most rushing TDs in a game with five.
And here’s a stat that speaks highly of his reliability:
— He has fumbled just twice in his career — in 452 carries — and none this season.
“I just want to help the team out where I can,” said Ralston, who also has six receptions for 68 yards and has 10 tackles on defense, including two for loss.
He spent the offseason improving on his breakaway speed and strength, and has worked with a personal trainer to improve his footwork and agility skills. The training has paid off as Ralston has matured into a hard-charging runner who is tough to bring down and often gains yardage after being hit.
He did suffer a minor injury this season, breaking a bone in his right foot in the season opener against Abilene Wylie. “I didn’t know until the next morning when I woke up and my foot hurt really bad,” he said. “I knew it would not keep me out. The coaches were great with their support, telling me to be patient. It’s not about the fifth game of the season, but about being healthy for the playoffs and keeping our focus on getting to the state championship.”
Ralston had eight straight 100-yard rushing games in 2012 and had eight this season, highlighted by the 28-carry, 365-yard output against Melissa.
“He’s a very disciplined football player and a guy who wants to the help the team win at a very high level,” said Argyle coach Todd Rodgers. “For us to have a championship team, he has to be able to run the game, and he’s done that. He’s a big back and he has the speed to break away. He’s got the ability to make people miss. He’s got great lateral movement. He’s got a good set of hands, and he’s got versatility. He can pass block, he can run block and he can run through you.
“He’s a smart and passionate football player. I’m glad he’s playing for us and not against us.”
Ralston almost didn’t play for Argyle. He lived in Double Oak and would have attended Flower Mound Marcus until his parents, Haley and Roy, and younger sister Madison (now a freshman at Argyle) moved when he was in the sixth grade. He wanted to be a two-sport athlete, in football and basketball, a more challenging feat at bigger schools.
He ended up giving up basketball last season, but only after helping the Eagles win the 2011 state basketball championship as a freshman.
These days, he spends his time training for football and doing “anything outdoors,” such as hunting and throwing a Frisbee. It’s been his dream since childhood to play college football, and he wants to study sports medicine or business.
But for now his focus is on Friday and the dream of winning a state championship.
“Coming into this year, we knew we had a talented group and knew what we wanted to do,” Ralston said. “The coaches kept reminding us that we would be the group that would win the first state championship for Argyle. The support of the community has been great. Everyone here is so special. It’s a great community. Coming back with a state title would make them so proud.
“We want to get the job done. We’re ready to go win a state championship.”