MOUNT VERNON — Paul Ryan emerged as a reliable rusher for Mount Vernon last season.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder proved to be a good backfield complement to quarterback Drew Adams, who graduated as one of the state’s most prolific passers with 8,946 career yards and 106 touchdowns.
With some big cleats to fill under center, the Mustangs will need another workmanlike performance from the senior running back.
“I’m definitely expecting, or hoping, to get a lot of carries again this year,” said Ryan, who finished sixth in Class 2A with 209 carries a year ago. “It was a good time last year.”
Ryan will play a prominent role in the Mount Vernon offense and the team’s success yet again, coming off a junior campaign that resulted in more than 1,800 total yards and 23 total touchdowns. The 2A fifth-ranked Mustangs open the season at 3A No. 5 Solon on Friday, starting at 7 p.m.
“Losing our quarterback from last year definitely changed our offense a little,” Mount Vernon Coach Lance Pedersen said. “We’re going to work hard not to be one dimensional.
“Paul gives us the ability to run the football effectively. He’s also very good out of the backfield. He’s a great receiver.”
Ryan showed his versatility and production. He notched his first 100-yard game in Week 3 last year, but hit his stride two weeks later with 154 yards on the ground and 136 more receiving with six total TDs against Northeast.
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Ryan surpassed 100 rushing yards each of the next five weeks, going for 249, 258 and 240 in consecutive games. Ryan added 57 receiving yards for 306 total yards against Anamosa with five scores.
“Our (offensive) line was fantastic last year,” Ryan said. “Those holes I could run in were huge. I’m hoping that is what is going to happen this year. Our (offensive) line is going to do a fantastic job and open some holes for us.”
Ryan averaged 19 runs a game and more than 21 total touches, rushing for 1,475 yards and 339 receiving. He admitted he felt a good type of exhausted after games late in the season when his role increased to more than 30 touches a game.
He carried the ball more than 30 times in three games, including 34 rushes and four catches against Mediapolis. He toted the ball 33 times in a win over playoff qualifier West Liberty and had 34 touches (31 carries, three receptions) in the postseason opener.
The ability to handle the added workload is a combination of a good line, running hard and being a multi-sport athlete.
“Paul is durable,” Pedersen said. “I think the reason why is he is a four-sport athlete. He doesn’t specialize in one thing. He excels in football and then wrestling. He is out for track and then you can find him on the diamond.
“He is a tough, tough kid that comes from a great family.”
His family has been a big part of his development as well. He has had multiple siblings excel at Mount Vernon, including older brothers, Jacob and Trey, and sisters, Emily, Libby and Sarah. They helped foster a competitive nature through some highly-contested backyard football and whiffleball games.
They want to best each other, but at the end of the day they want one another to be successful.
“It always helps,” said Ryan, who owns the family record for the annual Thanksgiving Day mile run. “It motivates me to see my older siblings do well in sports and to try to get there, too.”
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Pedersen has witnessed that competitive edge on the football field and in activities off of it as well.
“He doesn’t like to lose,” Pedersen said. “Whether it is checkers, chess, dodgeball or whatever competition it is he doesn’t want to lose. Those are the kind of kids you want to surround yourself with.”
Ryan will serve as an asset to sophomore signal caller Brady Ketchum, who will rely on targets that will include Zach Baker, Blake Booth and Detrick Vondracek.
Pedersen said Ike Appleton and Garrett Hormann will contribute in the backfield as well, so keying on Ryan won’t be an option.
“Even though Paul will be a feature back for us, he does have some guys to go along with him so he doesn’t have to carry the entire load,” Pedersen said. “The thing with Paul is he says whatever you need me to do I will do. He’s just a quality young man, willing to do whatever it takes to help the team succeed.”
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