Ryan Ralston can’t walk through the halls at Blue Valley West without drawing attention.
At 6 feet 4 and 220 pounds, he’s a big kid for starters. He’s also an excellent student and a three-sport star for the Jaguars.
Ralston made a game-saving diving stop at third base during the state quarterfinals, then started the championship game on the mound last spring as BV West won the Class 6A state baseball title.
Before that, he hit a game-winning buzzer-beater during sub-state, which helped propel the Jags to the state championship game in basketball.
Of course, football still generates the most notoriety for Ralston.
“I don’t think anything matches football in high school, because it’s the premier avenue for the sport,” said Ryan’s father, Chad. “We don’t have AAU football or summer league football. There’s seven-on-seven and those things, but the one place you can compete in football is during the school season. That makes the spotlight brighter.”
Baseball might be America’s pastime, but football is the country’s most popular sport from high school on up to the NFL.
“As far as high school sports, I don’t think there’s anything like playing Friday night under the lights,” Ryan said. “There’s nothing that can compare to it honestly.”
For Ryan, the baseball state championship game was great and playing for a basketball state title was fun. It just wasn’t football, with its packed stadiums and weeklong buildup to every game.
“I can’t even imagine what a state championship football game would be like,” Ryan said. “I would rather win a football state championship than a baseball state championship. I don’t mean for that to sound bad, but it’s just different.”
That is especially true for quarterbacks, who are as close to rock stars as anyone in high school. And certainly, that’s part of the appeal for football’s — and perhaps all sports’ — most demanding position.
“Football is probably the most fun for (Ryan) because there is that spotlight,” Chad said. “Some kids just gravitate toward that and want to be in that spotlight. That’s always been him. He’s always wanted to have that responsibility on his shoulders.”
Ryan works hard to remain a humble kid — as friendly to the scrawniest freshman as he is to BV West tackle Michael Fairchild, a 6-foot-6 and 283-pound Mizzou commit.
“It really is amazing, but he values our third quarterback as much as he does his best receiver,” Jags coach Scott Wright said.
Still, try as he might to avoid it, Ryan can’t escape being the Big Man on Campus. Teachers single him out to wish him luck and other kids treat him with more deference.
“He’s so friendly with everybody, there’s not as much of that as you would think,” Wright said. “A lot of that can be precipitated by your personality, so he doesn’t let that happen. But anytime you’ve had the kind of success he’s had, kids think it’s pretty cool.”
It can be a tough balancing act.
“To a certain degree, I’m sure some of it reaches him, but he does a good job not letting too much of it in,” Chad said. “It’s only natural that you are anxious when you’re in the limelight about what everybody is saying about you, but he’s surrounded himself with a core group of people that he can really trust and really care about him. That includes those coaches. That’s his secret to success.”
Still, Ryan constantly has to be aware of that spotlight.
“I’m always trying to do the right thing and I’m always aware that there’s somebody watching,” he said. “I try to lead by example. I’m not really a vocal guy, but I’m always trying to do the right thing. That’s a responsibility that comes with being the quarterback.”
On the field, the Jags take their cues from Ryan, who has the ball on every offensive snap and calls the plays, but it definitely carries over away from the field as well. Leadership goes hand in hand with the quarterback position, but that leadership doesn’t end at the sideline.
“My words carry extra weight sometimes, which is something I’ve learned from my dad and from my coaches,” Ryan said. “Some people look up to me and listen to me, so in the weight room or even walking around school, I have to be a role model.”
Everything comes with a price.
While Ryan can crack jokes in the locker room before a game without being sneered at by a menacing linebacker, he also suffers more when the team fails.
“Quarterbacks get the credit when things go well and take all the blame when things don’t go well,” Chad said. “Whether that’s justified or not, that’s just the way it works in football. With the accolades sometimes comes the backlash, too.”
Ryan enjoyed a breakout campaign as a junior, racking more than 2,800 total yards and 37 touchdowns running and passing, but the memory that lingered throughout the offseason was lying in the end zone Nov. 9 at Bishop Miege stunned and distraught.
Seconds earlier, Ryan had been stopped an inch from the goal line on a two-point conversion try in double overtime during the Kansas Class 5A state quarterfinals — a thrilling 38-37 win for Miege.
Ryan wasn’t thrilled.
“That was the worst feeling,” he said.
Nobody had the gall to blame Ryan (at least not to his face), but that loss stuck with him.
“That was maybe the most disappointed I’ve seen him, because I think he feels like he let people down,” Chad said.
While Ryan may never forget lying in that end zone, he refuses to let BV West, which went 8-3 last season and is among the top 5A teams in the state once again, dwell on it.
“I started out this summer and one of our deals was ‘One inch,’” Wright said. “After about a week, Ryan came up to me and said, ‘Coach, we’re done with one inch.’”
Ryan wanted a fresh start — for him and the team.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’ve thought about it probably hundreds of times,” Ryan said. “I’ve replayed it over and over in my head, but that’s in the past now.”
Ryan would rather do everything he can to make sure the Jags take full advantage of a new season and a new opportunity to chase state glory.
“Now that I’m a senior, I feel a little more swagger,” Ryan said. “Obviously, you’re not supposed to walk around with your chest puffed out, but I do feel nice knowing I’m the quarterback and the leader of the team. It does make it sweeter. As much as it shouldn’t, it does. Being the quarterback is awesome. You’re that guy. There’s only one quarterback usually, so it makes it a lot of fun.”