Any coach will tell you that the best game plans focus on playing to your strengths. For Ryan Staab, a senior lineman on the Skyview High School football team, playing to his strength means using his head to overpower his opponents.
"He's never been a physically dominant specimen, but through his work ethic and his technique, he's made up for that," said Skyview football coach Wade Marcuson.
"He's one of those four-year players, and our system hasn't changed. He listens and he learns. He's the first one there for chalk talks, and he pays attention to everyone's assignments. He's always helping the player next to him with his assignments."
Indeed, Staab has been a leader on Skyview's offensive and defensive lines, but his accolades -- he was a first-team all-Northern Lights Conference interior defensive lineman and second-team offensive tackle last season -- have come as a result of his hard work and applied knowledge more than pure athletic talent.
"He's a stud," said fellow lineman Mikael Barnes of Staab. "He knows every position on the football field, and he could play every position."
Staab, who carries a 3.83 grade point average, said he started high school without any background in football. He had no idea he'd end up battling in the trenches.
"I didn't know anything, except what I'd seen on TV," Staab said. "When I got here, (former line coach Greg) Zorbas chose me. I guess I have the talent for the spot I'm in -- I can't do anything else."
Staab said that playing on the line is more than just pushing people around. Blocking schemes continue to evolve into more complex forms, and lineman have as much responsibility for making reads as anyone else on the field.
"You have to be able to think on your feet," Staab said. "You need to know what you need to do to get the job done. You need the power to be able to push the man you're blocking around."
Staab said he relies technique to maximize his power.
"There's a lot of hand techniques to be able to chuck and turn your man," Staab said. "That's one of the major things coaches stress -- to be able to get your hands inside. (It's important to be) able to use different moves when you need to, like a swim move or a pick and chuck."
Learning the game has been an enjoyable experience for Staab.
"It's something I like to do," Staab said. "It helps because if you're blocking one way, you know where the back's going to go."
Staab's experience has allowed him to assume a leadership role on the team, and his enthusiasm has helped the team bond.
"He keeps a lot of people together," Barnes said. "He never works alone. He always gets other people into it."
Marcuson said Staab has helped the team remain upbeat after tough losses.
"After the loss to Soldotna, he was the one saying, 'Bring it in. Let's not let this be the end of our season,'" Marcuson said.
"I'm not real verbal. I try to show what needs to be done by doing it," Staab said. "On occasion I voice my opinion. When people don't think we're going to get done what needs to get done, I give a little inspiration."
Staab's demeanor in the classroom is just as studious and just as inspiring. Staab said his favorite subjects are science and math. He has plans to attend college next year and is contemplating the University of Northern Colorado in Greely.
Staab said he'd like to study to become a counselor.
"I've been in a lot of clubs that have helped people, and we have a great counselor here at school," Staab said of his inspiration to follow that career path. "It's an area that give me a lot of opportunities."
Staab has been active in Natural Helpers, a student-led mentoring program, as well as the community service Interact Club, the Skyview chapter of the National Honor Society and is a member of the Skyview student council.
Staab said being active in academics, athletics and service clubs has served to expand his circle of friends.
"It's gotten me into a different group o people," Staab said.
Staab said he also spends a great deal of time in the outdoors.
"I like to snowmachine, bike, hike -- anything outdoors," Staab said. "It's a lot of fun getting out in the wilderness."
For the next two weeks, Staab will remain in a slightly different environment -- one that can be just as wild -- as the Panthers face the Sitka Wolves in a Wednesday game and close the regular season at home against Homer Sept. 28.
Staab anticipates another spring track and field season, throwing the shot put and discus for the Panthers -- both events where good technique can overcome brute force.
"People think you go out and use muscle, but there's a lot of technique and a lot of footwork," Staab said. "That's where I get my power."
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