CRYSTAL LAKE – Talented football players on sophomore teams often are called up to the varsity level at playoff time to provide a boost.
Part of it is scouting to see what is in store for next season, and the other comes out of necessity to deepen a position.
But Crystal Lake Central and coach Matt Fralick couldn’t wait for the playoffs to make moves, so the coaching staff decided in Week 8, two weeks before the playoffs, to promote running back Ryan Williams.
“He is a big, physical back who runs hard and runs tough,” Fralick said. “He had an active season at the sophomore level, and we needed an extra running back for the playoff push. We didn’t know when we were going to get (Matt) MacAlpine, if at all, and we wanted an extra guy back there.”
MacAlpine was the Tigers’ leading rusher last season, but most of this season was taken from him when he fractured his fibula in the first game. The Tigers had doubts if it would be a season ending injury, but he returned in a limited role in Week 9.
When Central made the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year, MacAlpine had new hope for the season.
At 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, Williams has been a nice addition to the Tigers’ backfield. Though in a smaller role – he usually is used in a heavy dose of run blocking packages as well as short-yardage situations – the punishing back’s effect on the team’s success has been felt instantly. He has helped the Tigers (9-2) advance to Saturday’s game at top-seeded Cary-Grove (11-0) in the IHSA Class 5A state quarterfinals.
“He fits in that run package real well,” Fralick said. “He is a great run blocker and has good hands, but he fits that package real well because of how physical he is, and it’s nice to have.”
In Central’s first-round playoff game against Chicago Hyde Park, MacAlpine returned to his starting role in his second game back from the injury. Williams was tasked with blocking for the senior and made his presence known on short-yard punch-ins, helping MacAlpine rush for three touchdowns.
Williams capped the Tigers’ scoring with an 8-yard touchdown run as the game neared its end. He finished the day with 47 yards on seven carries.
Williams’ work ethic is another reason the Tigers decided to bring him up. The sophomore is touted as one of the hardest workers in the program, and he gives everything he has on every play even when his number isn’t called, Fralick boasted. He is smart in the classroom, and it translates onto the field, where he has picked up the offense and the schemes quickly enough to allow him to start contributing from the moment he stepped onto the field.
“He is a great running back with a lot of potential,” defensive end and fullback Connor Hines said. “He is a big part of our ‘Godzilla’ package, and he helps a lot with the power run game from the start.”
Personal success comes with the territory among team success for Williams. At worst he will play in five varsity games, picking up valuable experience on the way, which will smooth over his transition next season as he returns to the backfield in a full-time role. Sometimes just having been there before can be a load off of a players shoulders. Being introduced to the varsity season when the pressure is the most can make for a confidence builder in the future.
“It will help him a lot playing up here and he is getting basically an extra full season out of this,” Fralick said.
Hines echoed his coach’s words, saying the sophomore will be a legitimate force next season.