Ryan Robards wakes up eager to attack the day.
On Tuesday, for example, the Elk Grove High School senior climbed out of bed, shook off the cobwebs and reached for a bright pair of pink and orange socks – just for kicks.
Later during practice, Robards was in perpetual motion, a blur of fluorescent shins and ankles, white jersey and sparkling gold helmet. He caught passes, took handoffs, played defense, boomed punts and drilled a 55-yard field goal, kicking off a celebration. It wasn’t much different than what Robards did against Lincoln in Stockton on Friday in one of the top performance in the Thundering Herd’s storied history.
In Elk Grove’s 41-14 rout, Robards rushed for 277 yards and three touchdowns, caught a touchdown pass, had an interception, forced a fumble and kicked two field goals, including a school-record 51-yarder with plenty to spare to end the half. And he still had enough energy to shake hands with Lincoln’s players.
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“We make Ryan do everything,” Elk Grove coach Chris Nixon said. “He also works the snack bar, and we make him drive the bus so that we know he’s on it. We do know that Ryan isn’t Superman. We don’t give him enough time to go to a phone booth and change clothes because he’s in on every snap.”
Robards also is a team guy. He heaped credit on his linemen – Lau Ta’amu, Jacob Cornelio, Trevor Reinwald, Diego Cervantes, Jon Pochop and tight end Jake Bellecci are known as “The Hammerheads” – and he rewarded them with cheeseburgers before Tuesday’s practice.
“It’s all those guys that make it work for us,” Robards said.
277 Rushing yards by Ryan Robards in Elk Grove’s 41-14 victory over Lincoln of Stockton
Yes, but it took the guy to really make it work.
“I haven’t seen an individual performance like that, ever,” said Elk Grove defensive coordinator Jeff Carlson, who also coaches Robards in baseball. “Phenomenal athlete, phenomenal kid. It speaks of Ryan’s versatility.”
As impressive as his football feats are for the third-ranked Thundering Herd, the one achievement coaches and teachers still are buzzing about is one in the classroom. Robards, who has a 3.8 grade-point average, signed up for an Advanced Placement statistics course this semester, despite hearing how challenging the tests are for even the best students.
But he hasn’t flinched in that setting, either.
“This is a hard class, really, really hard, and here comes Robards,” Todd Reiswig, the AP stats teacher, said. “First test of the year is an hour long. Some students are literally crying, it’s so hard. Halfway through, Robards waltzes up, drops off his test. Half-hour, no way. I told him to go check all of his answers. Know what? He aced it. He’s bored with it. Blew me away. I have to find a way to challenge him.
“What can’t this kid do? What a start to his senior year.”
Robards also can dress for success, beyond the bright socks. Reiswig rewards students who dress up on test day with extra-credit points. Robards arrived in slacks, green shirt and a stylish green-gray tie. He scored 82 out of 80 on that test and aced the next one, too.
We make Ryan do everything. He also works the snack bar, and we make him drive the bus so that we know he’s on it. We do know that Ryan isn’t Superman. We don’t give him enough time to go to a phone booth and change clothes because he’s in on every snap.
Elk Grove football coach Chris Nixon on Ryan Robards
Robards hasn’t received any extra credit for his chin growth, much to his chagrin. It’s a slowly developing thatch, thick enough to provide extra cushion for his chin strap.
“I like to have fun,” Robards said with an easy smile. “I like the chin.”
Robards gets his zest for life and challenges from his parents, both longtime teachers in the Elk Grove Unified School District. Mom Candace provided Robards with intensity, and father Steve brought calm – and the blueprint for serious chin growth. Steve Robards, who coached Delta High in Clarksburg to Northern Section championships in the mid-1990s, sports a chin-only beard that is long enough to serve as a bib. And Ryan learned to compete from older twin siblings Natalie and Russell.
An aspiring engineer, Robards is in slow motion only in the moments before games. He’s the last one to reach the field as teammates charge through the back of the end zone before kickoff, explaining that he tries to conserve energy.
Robards’ football success has even caught the attention of college baseball scouts. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Robards also hopes to attract some college football interest, convinced a program could benefit from his versatility.
“It definitely motivates me to show a little more, to do as much as I can,” Robards said of the general lack of recruiting. “But I can’t sit here and complain. It’s frustrating, but I understand why schools overlook me. I’m only 5-11 and I don’t have blazing speed.”
Nixon called Robards an “amazing athlete” with a college future.
“He’s our best running back, our best safety, our best receiver, our best punter, kicker – everything,” Nixon said. “He’s the most multifaceted athlete I’ve been around, and he gives us such a spark. The guys love to follow him. My sons love him and look up to him.”
Nixon’s young sons, Sean and Scott, really do look up when watching Robards. They stand beyond the goal posts during field goals to catch the ball – or try to.
“Ryan kicked a 30-yard field goal (at Lincoln) and crushed it, and it goes up over the net, over the big tree, over the fence and into someone’s yard,” Nixon said. “My sons looked at each other, nodded and threw their arms up as if to say, ‘No way!’ That ball is gone.”
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