Ryan Robards may have stumbled onto a new pregame ritual, though it’s an unsavory sort of deal.
The Elk Grove High School senior football star lost his lunch before Friday night’s game in Del Paso Heights, a victim of anxiety and big-game jitters, which also shows the young man is human since his play suggests otherwise.
Robards cleaned himself up – wiping his chin, wiping his pants clear of debris – and then cleaned the collective clocks of the Grant Pacers.
Delivering one of the most outrageous one-half efforts in regional history, Robards scored five of his six touchdowns every which way to ignite No. 3 Elk Grove’s stunning 42-7 rout of the No. 2 Pacers in a Delta League contest expected to be a rumble to the finish.
Only Robards rumbled, before the game and throughout.
The region’s most versatile player opened the scoring with a 70-yard interception return for a score a moment into the game, then added a four-yard rushing touchdown, then scooped up a fumble and raced in from 10 yards out, then scored on a 75-yard punt return, then bolted up the middle for a 62-yard touchdown romp and then ended it with a simple one-yard plunge in the third quarter.
He rushed for 176 yards, was strong at safety, punted and played on returns. In short, he’s a dynamic one-man gang.
“I did what I could,” Robards said simply. “I was throwing up beforehand, all over my pants here, so maybe I need to do it before every game. We had to come out fast and physical, and we did.”
Elk Grove (5-0, 2-0) flexed its considerable muscle in the trenches, a unit led by the “Hammerheads.” Excellent interior blocking created gaping holes, and a strong, active defense headed by coordinator Jeff Carlson bottled up a Grant team used to doing the punishing.
The “Hammerheads” are Lau Ta’amu, Jacob Cornelio, Trevor Reinwald, Diego Cervantes, Jon Pochop and tight end Jake Bellecci. They revel in the chance to hit the blocking sled each week for position coach Moe Loller, who was ecstatic after the game, saying: “Our guys did a great job. Best game by far.”
It was also the best game by far for Robards, and, really, perhaps any Elk Grove player in the storied history of the program, given the setting and opponent. Grant was no pushover . The Pacers (4-1, 1-1) entered the game ranked eighth in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and third in Northern California by MaxPreps with scores of starters back from its 14-1 team.
Only the school’s nationally recognized drum line came to play on this night, however. Grant coach Mike Alberghini said before the game that sluggish first halves have been a problem, stressing, “You can only yell and scream at the half so many times.”
Said Grant linebacker Elijah Orr after the game: “This is a wake-up call. No way did we expect to lose like this. Robards is a player. He’s got our respect.”
Alberghini raved about the efforts and ability of Robards.
“He does everything,” the coach said. “He kicks, he plays strong safety, he’s their punter, their running back, and he does it all very, very well. He’s their ironman.”
Elk Grove coach Chris Nixon said of Robards: “You talk about the long Elk Grove history, and he did it all. He’s special. The amazing thing to me is he isn’t being recruited. I haven’t received one call. He’s elusive, deceptively fast.”
Robards, 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, said he understands that he isn’t the fastest or biggest guy in town. But his good grades and versatility should certainly alert recruiters, particularly given that he ran away from a very fast Pacers team.
On this night, Robards talked glowingly of his teammates and the upcoming games.
“I hope we continue this,” Robards said of his team’s strong play. “We hope to get that ring.”